PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

June 5, 2006

Jail diverson requires more beds for mentally ill

BEAUMONT — On any given day at the Community Psychiatric Center there may be one or two people brought in by law enforcement officers on mental health warrants, only to be told there are no beds for them. Officers may then have no choice but to take these citizens to jail.

“There are two waiting in our lobby right now with nowhere to put them. It is nonsense to put them in jail,” Gary Hidalgo, chief operating officer of Spindletop Mental Health and Mental Retardation agency, said.

Hidalgo addressed the Jefferson County Commissioners Court at a workshop on Monday to address the problems facing MHMR and law enforcement when it comes to the indigent experiencing mental health issues.

“There is a mental health crisis in the United States and that means there is a mental health crisis in the state of Texas and in Jefferson County. There are more beds in jail that are filled with the mentally ill than all other beds combined. But this problem can’t be solved by the local mental health authorities alone, it is a much more complex issue,” Hidalgo said.

To try to combat the crisis, the state required a few years ago that all Texas counties implement a jail diversion program, to keep those mentally ill residents that have committed only misdemeanor crimes out of the jail system.

“The jail diversion program is an unfunded mandate, but it is a good mandate and makes sense. Once a person gets into the corrections system it is hard to get out,” Hidalgo said.

But efforts to divert a mentally ill patient from jail cannot work without another place to put them.

The Community Psychiatric Center, which is operated by Spindletop MHMR at its campus off Washington Boulevard in Beaumont, has 16 beds.

But since Hurricane Rita hit Southeast Texas in September 2005, there is a critical labor shortage at the facility.

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