Naked City

Mental Health Going to Jail

On April 22 the House Committee on Corrections considered HB 2929, by Rep. Glenn Lewis, D-Fort Worth, which would mandate that an inmate's mental health be timely assessed when booked into jail. These assessments would take place at each level of the corrections system -- Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice penitentiaries, state jail facilities, and local county jails.

Predictably, it was the county-sheriff lobby that lodged opposition to HB 2929, likely due to its fiscal implications. The bill's fiscal note estimates it would cost TDCJ nearly $1.6 million a year through 2008 to cover salary and benefits for 35 new social workers. And it would cost nearly that much for each of the state's larger counties, like Harris and Dallas, which each book more than 100,000 inmates annually into their county jails.

Still, Lewis cautioned the committee not to be too nearsighted with their fiscal concerns. The fiscal notes "do not take into account the savings that could be realized," he said. "We need to make sure we don't have people sitting in our jails simply because they have a mental illness that is undiagnosed." Lewis cautioned fellow lawmakers that the cost to the state of not handling mental health issues properly is far more than the cost to implement his bill. "We're never going to improve with this kind of crisis management," he said. "Believe me, at some point we're going to have to stop this."

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