The mentally ill seem to have drawn the short straw again this year as the state stands to cut funding to many community care programs, treatment, and counseling organizations. The state is already ranked 49th in terms of spending on mental health and it’s only going to get worse. With fewer and fewer community resources for the mentally ill, the police and local jails are left dealing with issues they simply aren’t equipped to handle.
According to the Houston Chronicle, mental health and law enforcement officials alike are alarmed at the state of affairs and concerned that thousands of Texans in need of real help aren’t able to get it when they are being treated like common criminals.
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia says “the cuts that we’re hearing about are incredible…it’s almost as if these people were invisible, as if there were no awareness of the problem within communities.” In the Harris County Jail alone, it’s estimated $27 million is spent annually for the housing and care of the mentally ill.
Not every person with mental illness ends up in jail and not every person in jail has mental illness. But, mental illness can be a contributing factor to criminal behavior, particularly when there is no ongoing treatment. And police and judges often find their hands tied when met with cases that would be better served by community treatment when no such programs exist.
Not all counties are struggling quite as much as Harris County. Bexar County, for example, runs a successful diversion program where about 4,000 people with mental illness were diverted to community treatment rather than jail last year. The program was estimated to save the county more than $15 million. And despite this, the Bexar County Sheriff states their jail is still forced to serve some who would more effectively be housed in an inpatient mental health facility.
Those suffering with everything from major depressive disorder to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia require treatment for their illness just like any other physical ailment. But this can be difficult to obtain, particularly without insurance to cover the costs of counseling and medications.
Sometimes being arrested provides routes to some of the still remaining treatment options out there. Depending on the facts of your criminal case, we may be able to discuss some alternative sentencing or diversion options available in the jurisdiction where you are charged.
If you are facing charges, contact our attorneys today for a free consultation on your case. Everyone deserves to be represented with dignity and to have their constitutional rights protected throughout the criminal process.