- Associated Press - Saturday, January 23, 2016

BRYAN, Texas (AP) - A sheriff in Central Texas wants more done earlier to help inmates with possible mental health issues after a man’s death last year while in custody.

Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk said his office will work more closely with court officials to make help available when an inmate’s mental health is in question. He said staff will contact a justice of the peace in writing when county jailers suspect inmates might harm themselves.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards and prosecutors will review Texas Ranger and sheriff’s department reports on the death of Melvin Earl Jones.

An autopsy determined Jones, 44, of Bryan, died Aug. 18 at a hospital of natural causes after suffering organ failure due to dehydration. Bryan police arrested him Aug. 2 at a hospital on charges of assaulting a staff member.

Kirk said Thursday in a statement that Jones threatened violence and harm to himself while jailed. He said Jones at times refused to wear clothes and did not regularly eat food or drink despite jailers’ efforts to encourage him.

Jones was moved to the jail’s special housing unit because of hygiene issues, the sheriff said.

Kirk said mental health experts and members of a crisis intervention team knew Jones to have mental health issues. Arrangements were being made to have Jones hospitalized if he bonded out of jail, he said.

“The current operations of mental health facilities of this type cannot guarantee that inmates sent for treatment will be returned to custody,” Kirk said. “Family members stopped efforts to post his bond after learning that he would be hospitalized rather than released.”

He said Jones had seven visits with jail medical staff and one doctor’s visit before becoming sick and dying at a hospital.

“We can’t force anyone to eat, drink or take medication without a court order,” Kirk said.

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