Lonestar State Set to Increase Inmate Mental Health Services

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is making efforts to increase mental health care services in order to address the rising number of nonviolent inmates with mental illnesses and reduce recidivism of those inmates.

Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has developed a pilot program to be carried out in Harris County Jail, which, Hauffman said, is regarded as Texas’ largest mental health facility.

“Keeping nonviolent people with mental health issues out of our jails is the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do,” said Huffman in a statement. “It costs around $137 per day to keep someone behind bars as opposed to $12 per day for community mental health services. The majority of these individuals in the Harris County Jail never received the services they needed — services that probably would have kept them out of jail in the first place.”

The multi-year program will include more accessible mental health care, chemical dependence services, rehabilitation and residential housing opportunities, Hauffman said.

The jail currently administers psychotropic drugs to 25 percent of inmates.

“As a former prosecutor and judge, I’ve witnessed many stories of heartache involving families with mentally ill loved ones,” Huffman said. “It’s time we erased the stigma of mental illness. It is a medical problem that can be treated by proper care and medicine.”

If the pilot proves successful, the program is likely to spread throughout state correctional facilities and have potential to be taken on by other areas of the country as well, Hauffman said. Hauffman said she will also push for increased state funding to such programs that would increase crisis services, early detection and intervention.

The Texas House voted last week to increase the mental health services budget by $220 million, with $5.9 million allocated to parolees. As of January, 32,000 of the state’s
150,000 prisoners are in mental health programs.

Texas is ranked last in the U.S for its mental health care budget, which is a mere $36 spent per capita versus the average $109 in the U.S.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is in full support of the pilot that he said would better mental health services and society.

"The Harris County Jail has become the state’s largest mental health institution because too many people with mental illness end up in the criminal justice system rather than receiving proper health care," Emmett said in a statement. "Sen. Huffman and her legislative colleagues are taking steps to remedy the situation. The result will be better outcomes for those with mental illness, lower costs for county taxpayers and an overall better society."