Calling Attention To Strides Treating County Inmates Mental Problems

The Harris County Jail is the largest public provider for care for the mentally ill in Texas. It costs more to treat a mentally ill person in jail than it does in community clinic settings. But strides are being made to create public awareness of the problem.

Go to any jail in the country and you’ll find universal challenges to providing legally required medical care, including mental health treatment to those behind bars. It’s estimated that a quarter of the inmates in the Harris County Jail system have been prescribed medication for a mental health condition.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia spoke at a gathering hosted by the UH Graduate College of Social Work.

“We all agree that the best place for them, and we all agree that we understand that its their illness that has principally brought them into our custody. We all understand that this is not the best way for things to work. But we are doing an incredible amount of work to make sure that things change.”

With those inmates requiring some type of mental health treatment and medication each day, Garcia told the group thanks to MHMRA, the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority and UT Health Sciences, that improvements are being made:

“We no longer will have to travel miles and miles to get folks to a state facility, so that they could start getting the treatment that they need. Those things will start to happen now, folks will be restored, proper justice will be made available, things will be better.”

He added that everyone must understand that it is cheaper and better to treat inmates with mental health issues outside of a
correctional environment.

“I would also like to have an increased number of partnerships, relationships, programs, services and points of engagement with the social service community. I understand that an investment in social services and those treatment programs is extremely cheaper, than waiting for them to come to a county jail system, and allowing a facility to get overcrowded and inhumane.”

Sandra Lopez is clinical professor at the UH Graduate College of Social Work. She says Sheriff Garcia understands the vital
connection between mental health and social work.

“Sometimes we get so stuck, in terms of being concerned about the finances that we see that as a barrier to even going forward and being creative and innovative, in terms of creating services. And I think that’s what the sheriff has done over time, is at least brought more attention to how these are critical issues in our community.”

She says the lack of funding should not keep them from finding ways to serve the needs of the community.