The Largest Mental-health Facility in Texas Shouldn't Be a Jail

Facing a $600,000 fine and likely closure by the state for a history of safety violations, Timberlawn, one of the oldest psychiatric hospitals in Texas, will close Sunday after sending its remaining patients to other facilities.That's a tragedy for North Texas on two levels.First, the human tragedy of those patients who suffered due to what appears to be poor care and supervision, including those who committed suicide or were victims of physical or sexual assault by other patients.Second, the societal tragedy of closing a psychiatric facility licensed for 144 beds in the midst of a mental-health crisis that has far more mentally ill Texans behind bars than in hospitals or clinics.Sadly, when measured in terms of inmates who suffer from mental illness, the Dallas County Jail is the second-largest mental-health institution in the state — after the Harris County Jail in Houston. That is why local law-enforcement officials consistently identify the need for better services for the mentally ill as among their highest priorities.Texas isn't alone in turning its local jails and prisons into de facto mental hospitals. What began in the 1960s under the Kennedy administration as a well-intentioned plan to "deinstitutionalize" patients suffering from mental illness has resulted in fewer funds for psychiatric beds in all 50 states and in jails overcrowded with individuals suffering from untreated mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a nationwide 2017 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 37 percent of state and federal prisoners "had been told by a mental health professional in the past that they had a mental health disorder." Among county and local jail inmates nationwide, the number climbed to 44 percent.  Continue reading...

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