Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘harris county jail

The Mental Health Crisis in America’s Jails, Part II

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If you have any doubt about the inverse relationship between the availability of mental health treatment and the population of our county jails, check out this heartbreaking Sacramento Bee article about a woman who, quite literally, wound up in jail because of budget cuts to her local mental health treatment providers. In light of this news, and following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d note this excellent post over at Grits for Breakfast detailing a recent tour of the massive Harris County Jail in Houston. The Harris County Sheriff is seeking funding to build a new 1,200-bed mental health ward. The need for some sort of mental health treatment is there — to give just one statistic, of the Harris County jail population of about 8,800 inmates, some 2,500 are on some form of psychotropic meds. But Grits is skeptical of the expansion plan:

There are just a few thousand people cycling in and out of the jail – many of them mentally ill, homeless, addicted, or with other major barriers to successful rehabilitation – who are primarily responsible for the demand for increased capacity. These folks generate high per-person costs over time but as a matter of policy (a de facto if not an intentional one), Harris County is spending money on them at the jail instead of seeking community-based alternatives.

How much cheaper would it be to focus on reducing the number of visits and lengths of stay by frequent flyers than to simply build more capacity to accommodate a dysfunctional system?

These insightful comments reminded me of a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell from a few years back about the problem of chronic homelessness. The article’s title, “Million-Dollar Murray,” refers to a homeless gentleman who — between jail visits and emergency room stays — cost the city of Reno and the state of Nevada about a million dollars over a ten-year period. Unfortunately, the full text is behind a paywall, but here’s a snippet: Read the rest of this entry »

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