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What To Do When Your Loved One With Mental Illness Is In A County Jail

Having a loved one living with mental illness arrested is scary and overwhelming. Family or friends are often forced to become advocates to ensure that a mental health screening, medication, and treatment are provided. And they must speak out, if that doesn’t happen. 

Here is a list of first steps to take to advocate for your loved one’s safety and health. We’re here to help if you need support with any of these steps. 

  • Hand deliver, fax or email a letter asking for your loved one to be screened for placement in a mental health unit and/or examined by the provider of psychiatric services. Make sure to include any history of receiving services from your local mental health authority (LMHA) or local intellectual developmental disability authority (LIDDA).
  • Inform the person’s psychiatrist, case manager, or other service provider on the outside that he or she is in jail, and ask them to contact the jail regarding treatment plan.
  • Call jail medical staff or the administrator to follow up about the mental health history, and politely stress the importance of what medications and continued treatment your loved one needs. You may be told they can’t talk to you due to privacy laws/HIPPA. In that case, see our page about how to get a medical release.
  • If a mental health court is available, let the attorney know that you would like the case brought before this court.
  • Contact your Local Mental Health Authority (LMHA). Search for the LMHA closest to the jail on this list. A 24 hour referral line is available specific to your location. LMHAs sometimes offer pretrial services.
  • If your loved one was receiving services from a different LMHA not zoned to the county jail your loved one is currently held in, 
  • If your loved one is not receiving the treatment needed, or is experiencing neglect or abuse, file a complaint with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards at complaints@tcjs.state.tx.us and copy us at help@texasjailproject.org. More information on filing complaints can be found here.
  • See Sandra Bland Act–article on how it works and Patient’s Bill of Rights and reach out to us over phone (512) 469-7665 or email help@texasjailproject.org if you believe your loved one is not receiving proper medical care and/or nutrition, or if you have questions about navigating the justice system. 
  • Remember to keep a record of every person you correspond with at the jail and other agencies. 

If your loved one has been found incompetent to stand trial and awaiting transfer to a state hospital:

  • Email forensicadmissions@hhsc.state.tx.us to determine what position they are on the state’s forensic waitlist and how long they might have to wait in jail
  • Complete an intake with Disability Rights Texas if you believe your loved one is decompensating and needs immediate intervention. Please let us know if you completed your intake. It’ll help us with our advocacy efforts
  • Reach out to your Local Mental Health Authority and ask about options such as Assisted Outpatient Treatment Program, Outpatient Competency Restoration and other pretrial diversion options. Connect with your loved one’s attorney to discuss these options
  • If you believe that your Local Mental Health Authority failed to provide adequate services which led to your loved one’s criminalization or did not provide crisis intervention services in the community or the jail, consider filing a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman at Texas Health and Human Services.
  • In rare instances a Writ of Habeas Corpus can be filed with the court to expedite your loved one through the process. See our page on how to file this writ but please be aware that since the onset of Covid-19 in 2020 this strategy has not been successful.
  • Texas Jail Project advocates will be more than willing to engage in participatory defense with your loved one’s attorney. We’ve a track record of employing unique problem solving tactics to mitigate harm and improve outcomes for your loved one.

If you yourself have experienced mental health issues while in a county jail, Texas Jail Project wants to know about the conditions and any problems you might have had or observed.

We know that some people don’t know where to report the problems and others who are afraid to report. We are glad to listen and help you tell your story to state agencies, policy and lawmakers. We can also record what happened without your name being involved. Also, please let us know about any jail where your loved one with mental illness and/disability receives good care.

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