AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Hundreds of people who should be housed in state mental health facilities because they’ve been declared incompetent for trial are instead being held in county jails, a problem that continues to vex state officials, according to a published report.
More than 380 men and women are in county lockups, sometimes for months at a time, because there aren’t enough beds available at state mental hospitals.
“The county jail is not the place to be warehousing people with mental illnesses, and that’s what’s happening,” Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson said. “We’ve got to stop that.”
As of April 1, the average wait for a maximum-security bed - reserved for those charged with serious violent crimes - was 122 days, The Dallas Morning News reported (https://bit.ly/1SDjwk0 ).
More than four years ago, the state faced the same problem as hundreds of mentally ill inmates languished in jails ill-equipped to provide services for them. A state judge subsequently ordered Texas mental health providers to reduce wait times for the criminally insane to no more than 21 days. But the ruling was later dismissed by an appeals court on a legal technicality.
State health officials say they’re working to get inmates into treatment faster but there are only 1,047 beds statewide reserved for inmates.
Sheriffs, mental health advocates and others are urging lawmakers and the Texas Department of State Health Services to find more space at state hospitals for mentally ill inmates.
Advocates say the constitutional rights of defendants are violated when they are forced to stay in lockups instead of getting the treatment courts have ordered.
Officials at the state health department, which oversees mental hospitals, say that they are working to get more inmates into treatment faster.
“Even though we’ve worked steadily to add capacity, because Texas is growing so rapidly, keeping pace is challenging,” said Lauren Lacefield Lewis, assistant commissioner of the mental health and substance abuse division at the department.
Disability Rights Texas first sued Texas mental health officials in 2007 on behalf of three inmates who had been ordered to state hospitals because the courts found them mentally incompetent to stand trial. At the time, about 170 inmates across Texas were waiting for state hospital beds - less than half as many as are now housed in jails.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, https://www.dallasnews.com
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