In Houston’s Harris County Jail, where a quarter of the 10,000 inmates receive constitutionally required mental health services for their diagnosable psychiatric conditions, Sheriff Adrian Garcia expects the numbers to grow, says the Houston Chronicle. “The cuts that we’re hearing about are incredible,” he said. “It’s almost as if these people were invisible, as if there were no awareness of the problem within communities across the state of Texas, and particularly in Harris County.”
The jail already has more than 1,000 inmates housed in jails outside the county because of space problems. An influx of the mentally ill would exacerbate the problem. The jail has a special unit with 108 beds for the severely mentally ill. Nurses and doctors are on duty 24 hours a day. Taking care of the mentally ill behind bars instead of in the community, Garcia said, costs Harris County taxpayers about $27 million a year. In Bexar County, where Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz runs one of the most successful jail diversion programs in the nation, some 4,000 people with mental illnesses ended up in treatment last year instead of behind bars. Those diversions are credited with saving the county more than $15 million in 2009-10. San Antonio is the only police department in the country where the police chief has mandated an intensive 40-hour crisis-intervention training program for all officers. Despite those efforts, “our jail is still packed with inappropriate people,” said Leon Evans of the county’s Center for Mental Health Services.