Mental Health in Texas prisons and jails
October 13, 2012
University of Southern California
A. Introduction: Issue, Policy, Problem:
Texas has approximately 24.3 million residents according to 2010 state statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Close to 833,000 adults live with a serious mental illness. Within these 24.3 million residents of Texas in 2008, approximately 37,700 adults with a mental illness were incarcerated (NAMI.org). Additionally, there is an estimated 31% of female and 14% of male jail inmates nationally live with serious mental illness. We see this because there are inadequate public mental health services to meet the needs of those suffering. Texas public mental health system provides services to only 21% of adults who live with a mental illness (NAMI.org). The objective of the 18th Edition Texas Laws for Mental Health are to provide a comprehensive range of services for persons with mental illness or mental retardation that need publicly supported care, treatment, or habilitation. In providing those services, efforts will be made to coordinate services and programs with services and programs provided by other governmental entities to minimize duplication and to share with other governmental entities in financing those services and programs (TDSHS.us). Regardless of the objective by the Texas Laws, prisoners are not, however, a powerful public constituency, and legislative and executive branch officials typically ignore their rights absent litigation or the threat of litigation (UNHCR.org). With this being said, there is great failure within this objective. Many, even thousands of prisoners become incarcerated without receiving the major mental health services they require. Gazing within, many prison mental health services are woefully deficient, crippled by understanding, insufficient facilities, and limited programs. State budget cuts handed down during the recent legislative session left the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a dangerously-low $6.1 billion biennial budget, approximately $97 million less than last year’s funding levels. As a result, the mental health care system suffered layoffs along with the rest of the prison health care services. In addition, although treatment and medications were left untouched, fewer medical workers are now left to treat mentally-ill inmates. Staffing cuts in turn increased the inmate-to-staff ratio from 58 to one upward to 65 inmates for every mental health care worker (Nix, 2011). The growing number of mentally ill persons who are incarcerated in the United States is an unintended consequence of two public policies adopted over the last thirty years. The elected officials have failed to provide adequate funding, support, and direction for the community mental health systems that were supposed to replace the mental health hospitals shut down as part of the “deinstitutionalization” effort that began in the 1960’s (UNHCR,org). Following the deinstitutionalization process came the “war on drugs” campaign. This was to have embraced a punitive, anti-crime effort. What we saw was a considerable proportion of the prisons and jails population sore, more than quadrupling in the last thirty years.
B. History and Scope of Issue:
Eighty-three years after the first American institution exclusively for the insane was opened in Williamsburg, Virginia, the first Texas facility for the mentally ill was established by the Sixth Legislature. Legislation signed by Governor Elisha M. Pease on August 28, 1856, called for the establishment of a state lunatic asylum (Creson). Fifty thousand dollars was appropriated for land and buildings. The State Lunatic Asylum (now Austin State Hospital) did not open until 1861, when Superintendent Dr. Beriah Graham admitted twelve patients. Before 1861, individuals with a mental illness or mental retardation were kept at home, sent out of state for treatment or...