Criminal Justice

Jail Often the Only Option for Mental Health Treatment

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It costs more to treat the mentally ill in jail than in a hospital setting. But jail offers the only treatment alternative for many, due to a lack of psychiatric hospitals.

So some inmates actually welcome the opportunity to return to jail and get needed treatment, reports the Houston Chronicle. Among them is Patricia George, 34, who suffers from schizophrenia and is bipolar.

Charged with 12 felonies and 31 misdemeanors in 20 years, she has spent nine years in jail. She says her thinking is clearer when she returns to jail and gets medicated. When released, she is expected, without a car or money, to locate mental health providers and get counseling and needed prescription medications on her own. Unmedicated, she hears voices.

The mental health facility at Harris County Jail is one of the biggest in the state. But the money could be better spent elsewhere, says Chief Deputy Mike Smith of the county sheriff’s office.

“We shouldn’t be treating our mentally ill in the jails,” he says. “We should be treating them in the free world.”

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