Texas’ 10 state psychiatric hospitals are intended to be used primarily as a short-term stop for patients and defendants in need of intensive temporary treatment before moving on to less restrictive facilities or back into the community. Increasingly, that’s not the case, says the Austin American-Statesman. In recent years, the 2,400 beds in the facilities have been stacking up with patients staying much longer — some for decades. Long-termers “are eating up the beds,” said Jeffery Futrell of the Travis County sheriff’s office. “It’s where the system breaks down.”
The fastest-growing group of hospital patients is criminal defendants. Unlike so-called civil commitments — whom physicians or police order confined in an emergency because they are a danger to themselves or others — so-called forensic commitments come through the court system, either to be restored in preparation for a trial or to stay after they have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. In 2001, forensic patients made up 15 percent of those in the hospitals. Today, they are 40 percent, and the numbers are growing. The shift is significant because psychiatric criminal defendants tend to stay much longer. The average time patients stay in a state hospital climbed about 30 percent in the past five years.