Sept. 8, 2015
The Travis County Jail has been called the largest mental health facility in Central Texas. However, it is not a mental health facility. As long as we say that the jail is a mental health facility or hospital, we do not properly emphasize the lack of mental health services in our criminal justice system. There are a large number of people in the Travis County Jail with mental health issues that are not getting the medical services they need.
The need for proactive treatment of individuals suffering with mental illness in Travis County continues to grow. In 2011, there were 4,200 individuals flagged at the Travis County Jail as possibly having a mental health need. In 2014, that number increased to over 6,000. Effective policing must include partnerships with mental health services to intercept those suffering with illness and help them find medical treatment outside of the jail system.
Those individuals who can be diverted should be diverted and the Travis County Sheriff should help these individuals find services once they are out of jail. This would increase the public safety and create safer communities. For those who cannot be diverted due to the danger they pose to themselves or the public, we should ensure that they receive adequate mental health services in Travis County Jail. As law enforcement officials, we must rethink how we interact with mentally ill individuals and build partnerships that give access to needed services.
In April, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office announced their participation in a Behavioral Health Advisory Committee to evaluate points of intervention for those with suffering from mental illness. I applaud the efforts of Sheriff Greg Hamilton and Judge Hohengarten to address the growing need for health services, mental health training, access to housing, and programs for re-entering the community.
- Work towards implementing recommendations from the Behavioral Health Advisory Committee Spring 2015 Report and take a proactive role in assisting the Committee in its continued efforts to address mental health needs in Travis County.
- Continue efforts to implement the Sequential Intercept Model and take a proactive role to partner with organizations to find opportunities to divert people who should be diverted at each point in the model.
- Work to secure funding for programs like the Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams and other mental health intervention and community re-entry programs.
- Provide support to partner agencies and community organizations so that they may secure funding.
- Connect mentally ill inmates to Medicaid and health care resources as a part of their re-entry process so that they may access needed services and medical care.
- Provide advance levels of CIT TRAINING as part of a continuing education program and partner with mental health service programs for these trainings.
- Implement appropriate mental health screenings and ensure that the proper individuals are notified within a timely manner if a person if flagged.
- Implement best practices for suicide prevention.
- Identify what resources and changes are needed in order to better assist people with mental health issues.
- Work with community organizations, leaders, and advocacy groups to disseminate information about substance abuse treatment, family and peer support groups, and affordable/alternative housing in order to divert individuals with a mental illness from incarceration, assure successful re-entry, and increase awareness and understanding.
- Work with the City of Austin and/or Travis County to create a registry for transitional housing providers who can provide housing at a small fee. Input from transitional housing providers will be sought.
This is the second draft policy paper released to increase discussion and awareness of issues facing law enforcement and our community.
The job of Travis County law enforcement is to protect and serve the public. Finding opportunities to decrease incarceration rates of mentally ill individuals and provide alternative services to address their health care needs makes our community safer and better serves the needs of individuals suffering from mental illness.