Mentally Ill Jail Inmate Issues
Travis County District Judge Orlinda Naranjo recently ordered the Texas Department of State Health Services to admit mentally incompetent county jail inmates within 21 days of receipt of the commitment order. While the order is not final and may be appealed by the attorney general, it has revealed the increasing problem of underfunded state hospital beds at the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The Texas Legislature has provided funding for only 800 hospital beds for statewide treatment of incompetent jail inmates. These inmates are awaiting trial, but have been found to be unable to participate in their defense because of mental illness. Since 2005, these inmates have been subjected to an average wait of six months in the county jail before transfer to a state hospital. During this delay the county is solely responsible for the costs of their confinement. These inmates often require separation and additional supervision at increased cost to the county.
Of course, confinement in the county jail without treatment is also detrimental to the mental health of the inmate.
“Keeping incompetent pretrial criminal defendants confined in county jail for unreasonable periods of time prior to being admitted to a state mental health facility or residential health facility violates the incompetent detainees’ due process rights as guaranteed by the Texas Constitution” stated Naranjo.
The effect of this unfunded mandate comes as no surprise to sheriffs and commissioners courts who have urged adequate state mental health funding for many years. Since Texas ranks last in the nation in per capita spending on mental health, conditions are unlikely to improve without additional appropriations from the state. Whether this court ruling will stimulate action or more delay remains to be seen.
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