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Recent Case Calls Attention To Mental Illness In Harris County Jail

Following a high-profile case where a rape victim was jailed, advocates for the mentally ill are asking Harris County to improve training for prosecutors and deputies. This comes as the sheriff’s department handles a growing number of cases involving people with psychiatric issues.

The rape victim who was jailed has now filed a federal lawsuit against the Harris County D.A.’s office. Late last year, she had a breakdown on the witness stand as she testified against an accused serial rapist. She was hospitalized, but after she was released she was held in jail. Prosecutors said they were afraid she wouldn’t return to testify.

Glenn Urbach directs the Houston branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He says things could have been done differently.

“In the future what they really need to do is go file another involuntary commitment on someone, like this particular person, and let the judges who handle these commitments make that decision as to whether or not she needs to go into a hospital,” says Urbach.  

Urbach met with members of the DA’s staff this week to give suggestions on how to better handle cases involving the mentally ill.

By some accounts, the Harris County Jail is the largest mental health facility in Texas. On average, the jail holds over 8,000 inmates. The sheriff’s office says about a quarter of those inmates take medication for psychiatric issues. But Urbach says not everyone is trained to handle those issues.

“What we’ve asked jailers to do is also become mental health technicians,” adds Urbach. “And I don’t know if that’s what they were hired to do but that’s the population that they deal with. That’s the job that they have.”

Urbach says Harris County does have programs designed to keep the mentally ill out of jail. But he adds the county needs a lot more, and he’s hoping his organization can work with the DA’s office on training classes.

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Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

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