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Mental Health Summer Update

By Laura Nicholes
TAC Legislative Staff

New Mental Health Assessment Coming to Your Jail:
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) will begin a new training program, in collaboration with multiple state agencies, to teach jailers how to assess inmates for suicide and mental impairments. Commission staff identified the need for increased training when annual inspections and investigations of suicides revealed that some jailers were missing indicators of possible mental illnesses in inmates, and that magistrates were not being contacted as required by law. The four-hour assessment training includes expertise from Local Mental Health Authorities around the state. More information on the new mental health jail assessment can be found in TCJS’s upcoming edition of their newsletter, The Brief Out, and on their website.

Let’s Make A Plan!
HB 3793 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who serves as chairman of the House County Affairs committee, requires the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to “plan for the proper and separate allocation of outpatient or community-based mental health services provided by secure and non-secure outpatient facilities that provide residential care alternatives and mental health services and for the proper and separate allocation of beds in the state hospitals” for both forensic (court ordered) and civil patient needs. 

The development of a plan and the advisory panel making recommendations to the state agency is a key component of HB 3793 and will allow counties to bring their needs to the table, assess the history of use of civil and forensic services and acknowledge the lack of resources in particular areas of the state that serve as challenges or road blocks to providing immediate, appropriate and cost effective services to those with mental health needs. Limestone County has two appointments on the advisory panel, County Judge Daniel Burkeen and Sheriff Dennis Wilson. Burkeen and Wilson were instrumental in the crafting and negotiating of this portion of HB 3793 throughout the 2013 legislative session. 

In-Jail Competency Restoration:  Can it Work in Texas?
SB 1475 by Sen. Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock), directs the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to develop and implement a pilot program of “jail based competency restoration” in one or two counties that choose to participate. There was some concern and much conversation among various groups during the legislative process as to whether this type of program could work in accordance with the state district court order to transport incompetent defendants from the county jail to a state hospital within 21 days. The Legislative Budget Board’s January 2013 Government Efficiency and Effectiveness Report (GEER) makes legislative recommendations to “Use Alternative Settings to Reduce Forensic Cases in the State Mental Health Hospital System” in its Health and Human Services category. A similar program has been used in California, whereby, certain defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial receive mental competency restoration services in the jail instead of a state hospital. The DSHS has assembled a workgroup with a variety of county criminal justice and service related participants to help establish the rules for the pilot program. Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez are serving on the workgroup; the pilot program expires Sept. 1, 2017.