Texas program to help inmates with mental illness produces promising results

March 14, 2016

A pilot program, launched in Harris County, Texas in 2013 as part of an effort to reduce the numbers of mentally ill people locked up in local jails, may be working. Regenia Hicks, the director of the pilot program, said clients had fewer bookings and the amount of time each spent in jail went down by more than 50 days, potentially saving almost $3 million a year. Hicks said 764 people have been served so far, with more than 200 connected with temporary and emergency housing. Last October, the program started connecting people - 21 to date - to residential treatment facilities, which provide both housing and help with substance abuse and mental illness issues. Currently, the program has nearly 250 clients. The program is open to those who have cycled through the jail at least three times in the last two years, allowing officials to focus on the toughest populations to help. The overwhelming majority are African American and male and have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2013, Texas lawmakers began investing millions in substance abuse treatment and efforts to eliminate waiting lists for mental health services as well as creating the pilot in Harris County. Since then, the state and the county have kicked in $4 million apiece per year for the diversion program, county budget officials said.
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