Steps being taken to help Harris County mental health inmates
by Alex Sanz
Posted on November 22, 2009 at 6:55 PM
HOUSTON -- The head of the Harris County Judicial Mental Health Task Force is expected to present sweeping recommendations on how to help mental health inmates at the Harris County Jail in a report to be presented to county commissioners in December.
Among the recommendations crafted by the prominent Houston attorney George Parnham is a reintegration center where inmates with mental health problems can be transitioned back into society.
Harris County, he said, needed to provide inmates with case managers to help them secure employment, housing and social services. The process would begin at the Harris County Jail and eventually move to a stand-alone facility.
"The Harris County Jail is the largest mental health facility probably in the state of Texas and ranks, I'm sure, in the top ten in the United States," he said. "It is, without question, a warehouse whereby we just stack beds and put people that are mentally ill in them. It's something that touches everybody. Either directly or indirectly. And people have to become aware of it."
There are as many as 10,000 inmates, on any given day, at the Harris County Jail. About 20 percent have a history of mental problems. Statistics show the vast majority of them will reoffend and end up back in jail.
"We're [finally] talking about it," said Parnham, who spent much of the past year working with the mental health task force at the request of Sheriff Adrian Garcia. "There are systems in place in the county jail that answer some of these issues but we're not going to let go of this."
Final cost estimates had not been finalized but Parnham said the proposed reintegration center would ease jail overcrowding and become a model for other law enforcement agencies in Texas.