Health Care For Former Inmates Saves Harris County Money

The Harris County Jail system is said to have one of the best mental health programs. But those services stop once inmates are released. Too often those inmates repeat the same patterns that get them right back jail. Capella Tucker reports on a program that looks to literally walk inmates from the jail doors to clinic doors to stop the cycle of re-incarceration.

“Hi, this is George Bement with Healthcare for the Homeless Houston. I’ve arranged a special release this morning for Rhanda Gillespy. Okay, I’ll be there in about five minutes, thank you.”

It’s 8 o’clock Saturday morning. Bement walks four blocks to the Harris County Jail.

Rhanda Gillespie has been in and out of the Harris County jails since the mid-1990’s.

She’s served time for theft, delivery of controlled substances and prostitution.

And Gillespy suffers from mental illness.

She knows most people expect her to wind up back in jail.

“In fact one of the jailers told me, the lady I worked for, she told me, she says we’ll have a job waiting for you when you get back, I said hopefully I find one with better pay.”

First Gillespy has to get her feet on the ground, that includes walking back to the clinic with Bement for a doctor’s appointment.

“The severely mentally ill people generally are treated in the jail and in fact the jail has a very good mental health unit, but then once they get out there’s no linkage of services. Once they are out the door the Harris county sheriff’s department no longer has responsibility for their care so they are basically on their own.”

Every other time Gillespy has been released it’s been at 12:01 a.m., which is the traditional time when inmates are freed.

“The people most unable to be productive in our society are left to fend where I certainly couldn’t figure out how to get from jail and before my blood levels of my anti-psychotic are gone get that new medicine. There isn’t a place to do it except for clogging the Er’s.”

Or winding up back in jail. Doctor David Buck founded the Healthcare for the Homeless Houston.

The group hopes to make a difference for Gillespy and others like her so they won’t wind up behind bars again.

In a pilot project, Buck has found that the level of recidivism drops when inmates are directly connected with services upon being released. He’s been following two hundred forty-five patients for the past year.

“When we looked at a comparable group from 2004 and looked at our group, the re-arrest rates from 2004 were sixty percent. The re-arrest of this group from last year was 30 percent.”

Buck says that saves Harris County money. Commissioners are expected to vote tomorrow on whether they’ll fund the continuation of the program which costs about one hundred thousand dollars a year.

Capella Tucker, KUHF- Houston Public Radio News.