Forensic Bed Shortage Makes TX Defendants Wait

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Roderick Marshall of Houston pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in an assault case. He hoped that Instead of serving prison time, he could be shipped off to a state mental hospital for treatment and possible release. Six months later, Marshall, 49, sat in the Harris County Jail, one of more than 500 inmates in jails across Texas waiting for mental health treatment at the overburdened state hospitals, the Houston Chronicle reports. On any given day, between 60 and 80 prisoners in the jail are awaiting transfers, running up bills of about $295 each per day for local taxpayers. “This is a multi-system failure,” said Annalee Gulley of Mental Health America of Greater Houston, a local nonprofit. “We’re so far behind, it’s frightening to think about if it’s possible to catch up.”

The dearth of so-called forensic beds has plagued the Texas criminal justice system for at least two decades, with bed space sinking by nearly 300 since the mid-1990s. In the past two years, the wait list has ballooned dramatically, leading some inmates to languish behind bars for more than 200 days awaiting treatment. Some mental health professionals, jailers and legislators are heartened by $300 million in new funding the legislature approved in its 2017 budget, but it’s still not clear how far that will go toward fixing the problem. “It’s a travesty,” said state Sen. John Whitmire. “It’s a shame when we have $11 billion in the rainy day fund that we’re still operating with a shortage of forensic psychiatric beds.”

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