Jail beds outnumber psych beds for mentally ill


May 14, 2010

Chris Moran


A report issued by the National Sheriffs' Association this week finds that there are nearly eight times as many seriously mentally ill people in jails than in psychiatric hospitals in Texas. Only Arizona and Nevada have a higher prisoners-to-patients ratio.

There is no county-level data in the study, but the results of queries to law enforcement and mental health administrators indicate that Harris County is much better off than the state as a whole.

The sheriff's office, which runs the county jails, estimates that about 2,400 inmates are receiving medication for mental health conditions. The Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County reports that the total number of psychiatric beds available to residents is 825.

This would yield a ratio of 2.9 to 1, far lower than the Texas ratio of 7.8 to 1 and the national average of 3.2 to 1. But a local mental health expert says 3-to-1 is still a serious concern.

"It is certainly true in Harris County that jails are a major provider of psychiatric care. This situation is a result of the insufficiency of treatment options in the community. Harris County has seen a decrease over the past decade in the number of inpatient psychiatric beds in both the private and public sector. Our state-funded capacity for outpatient mental health services is inadequate for a county population of four million," said Daryl Knox, medical director of MHMRA's comprehensive psychiatric emergency program.

"Funding for the expansion of outpatient services, low income housing and more options for treating substance abuse are a must to improve the treatment of the mentally ill in the community, rather than in our jails," he said.

Posted by Chris Moran at May 14, 2010 04:34 PM