Monday, June 16, 2008

A Texas Size Problem

A series of news reports out of Houston, Tex. is documenting what is becoming a program of Texas-sized proportions. The lack of funding and lack of beds in mental hospitals is overcrowding Texas jails and courts with people with severe mental illness.

Every month more than 1,700 people are locked up in the Harris County jail who are suffering from a mental illness, making the Houston-area prison the largest mental health hospital in the state.

For readers to this website, this is not new news. The Treatment Advocacy Center’s recent report on the shortage of public hospital beds for the mentally ill outlines the results. The consequences of the severe shortage of public psychiatric beds include increased homelessness; the incarceration of mentally ill individuals in jails and prisons; emergency rooms being overrun with patients waiting for a psychiatric bed; and an increase in violent behavior, including homicides, in communities across the nation.

"The criminal justice system should not be the primary provider of psychiatric medical care," Harris County Judge Jan Krocker said. "I'm supposed to know about blood spatters and ballistics and understand criminal law, yet a huge portion of my job deals with the mentally ill," said Krocker.

Krocker said about a third of the people charged in criminal court are mentally ill.

Without proper treatment, many of the mentally ill are often released late at night and end up back in jail “before the sun is even up,” reports KPRC channel 2 news in Houston.

All this come at the cost of $132 to house an inmate in jail’s mental health unit.

This should lead Texans to ask: Why is so much being spent for so little?