When accused persons are unable to assist in their defense because of mental incompetency, the trial court orders them committed to a state mental institution for treatment and restoration of their competency. These defendants have not been convicted of a crime, but they cannot be tried or released until they are mentally competent. For several years, the legislature has failed to provide enough space in the state hospital system to receive these patients when they are committed by the courts. Consequently, they are placed on a waiting list and held in the county jail until a state hospital bed is available.
The space allocated for these patients is called “forensic commitment beds.” There are only 2,269 total forensic commitment beds in the entire state hospital system serving all of the courts in the State of Texas. Additionally, patients with a violent history must be separated from other patients and held in a maximum security unit. There are only 303 maximum security unit beds in the entire state hospital system.
With this limited space, it is not surprising that the waiting list of mentally incompetent defendants is increasing, and the length of time waiting in the county jail is also increasing. In the four months from Sept. 1, 2019, to Jan. 1, 2020, the list of forensic patients awaiting admission to the state hospital system increased by 16 percent. The average length of time waiting in the county jail is 66 days for all forensic patients and 284 days for maximum security patients. Yes, that is correct: Violent, mentally ill patients are being held in the county jail for an average of almost 10 months before admission to a state hospital. That is 284 days after a court has found that they are incompetent and unable to participate in their defense. Obviously, these patients are a grave danger to our jail staff, other inmates, and themselves. They are also the most expensive cost to the taxpayer, often requiring single cells and expensive medications.
These defendants have not been convicted of a crime. They are being held in our county jail because the state has not met its obligation to provide treatment for them. They will not recover while in jail and will likely deteriorate further requiring more extensive treatment when finally admitted to the state hospital.
This situation is inexcusable. The backlog increases every month, increasing the safety risk in our jails, delaying the treatment of these individuals, and shifting the cost to local county taxpayers. When will the state legislature meet its obligation and provide adequate treatment for these mentally ill citizens?
For additional information, please call me at 1-800-733-0699.