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.
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.