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One easy way to stop a destructive cycle in our jails

Dec 22nd, 2014 | Category: Lead Article

December 16, 2014, Houston Chronicle editorial, with photo by Brett Coomer

It’s an unfortunate reality of our system that many inmates of Harris County Jail are poor and have never received mental health care before. After treatment, those with mental illness may leave jail stabilized and in far better shape than when they entered it. However, if an inmate who receives Medicaid benefits stays in jail for longer than 30 days, he is dropped from the Medicaid rolls and must reapply, even if he is never convicted of a crime. Because the average stay in jail is one month, this policy affects many inmates. It also makes no sense.

The jail is the largest mental health facility in the state. Its operation requires a major investment of time and resources. Psychiatrists and other trained personnel screen, diagnose and attempt to stabilize the 1,200 new mental patients who are admitted to the jail monthly. On any given day, 25 to 30 percent of the jail’s 8,600 inmates are prescribed psychotropic medication for mental illnesses.

Success rates for mental health treatment are just as effective as those for physical health care, according to Mental Health America of Greater Houston. But for this to hold true, people with mental illness must continue to take their prescribed medication.

Once a former inmate who has been diagnosed with mental illness is released from jail, without Medicaid, he may be unable to afford his prescribed medication and/or to receive therapy. He may not have the necessary organizational skills to attempt to re-enroll. In any case, an application can take time, leaving people with illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia without access to medical care and more likely to commit another crime and land back in jail. Continuity of mental health treatment is one way to help stop people with mental illness from cycling through the jail system.

State Rep. Jose Menéndez, D-San Antonio, has filed a bill calling for the reinstatement of medical assistance for certain individuals after release from confinement in a county jail. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia supports the intent of the bill “because easier access to health benefits outside the jail lessens the chance that they will be coming back to our correctional institution, rather than a hospital.” There’s an old saying, “Common sense isn’t as common as you might think.” Fixing this problem is just common sense, and next session, the Legislature should act.

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1 Comment
7 years ago

How can we help mental I’ll prisoners that have been sentenced to 40 plus years that was discharged from prison with mental illness no meds or mental help and relocked up in prison because he had a drug problem to cope with his illness and they gave him 40 yes and no he is mental I’ll and he didn’t get a fair trial because of illness he me help him do any one care about the mental Ill or are they just locked up and throw away the key help !