A shortage of available spots in Texas’ state-administered psychiatric hospitals has caused many facing charges across the state to languish in jail without treatment, bond or a trial date. The problem arises when an individual is declared mentally unfit to stand trial. Before competency can be reassessed, the inmate must receive mental health treatment. However, the average wait for a Texas inmate to receive in-patient psychiatric treatment is more than four months, and wait times can exceed a year in certain cases. This means that if charged with a crime, Texas’ mentally ill can find themselves behind bars for months without the opportunity to be let out on bond or to receive a trial on their charges.
Although many states across the nation have understaffed and overcrowded mental health facilities, Texas has one of the country’s longest waits for inmates to receive vital psychiatric treatment. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission reports that maximum security inmates face an average wait of 127 days to receive treatment–more than double the average wait of just two years ago. Add an intellectual disability, and the wait more than triples to an average 417 days. Indeed, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the Treatment Advocacy Center, Texas inmates have the fourth-longest average wait for psychiatric treatment in the entire country.
Why are Texas’ state-run psychiatric centers so squeezed for space?
A large part of the reason is the state’s long-standing policy of limited funding for mental healthcare. Up until 2009, Texas ranked last in the country in per capita spending for mental health. Since then, lawmakers have recognized the problem and are making efforts to increase funding; for example, 2015 saw the passage of an appropriations bill that provided an additional $50 million to support private psychiatric hospitals, freeing up space in state-run hospitals for inmates with mental illness. However, it appears that the additional funding has not yet been enough to stem the problem. The number of available spots at state psychiatric facilities for inmates has increased–from 1,144 in 2015 to 1,239 at the beginning of 2017–but this growth is far outpaced by Texas’ overall population growth.
What is being done to help these inmates?
State lawmakers such as State Representative Four Price (R-Amarillo) are pushing for even larger funding increases for mental illness treatment, with additional appropriations being authorized at the end of the last legislative session in May. However, some are no longer willing to wait for increased funding to slowly change the problem. Disability Rights Texas, an advocacy group, has a pending class-action lawsuit against the state. The attorneys heading the case argue that the long waits for treatment are unconstitutional, and note that the lawsuit is in response to Texas’ years-long struggle “to effectively address this problem.”
Languishing away in jail without the benefit of treatment, while still being ‘presumed innocent’ under the Constitution, is a guilty verdict and sentence, without the benefit of a trial. If you or someone you know is facing a prolonged stay in a Texas jail due to lack of space in a state mental health facility, your constitutional rights are being violated. It is important to seek the counsel of an aggressive criminal defense attorney to fight for your rights.