An East Texas county official is working to increase resources for mental health patients who wind up in jail.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said people with mental health issues make up a substantial part of the smith county jail.
“We’ve got to do better at taking care of the mental patients because the last place they need to be is in a county jail,” Smith said.
Smith said it’s a problem that needs to be solved statewide.
“We have what we call ‘frequent fliers’ and it’s sad,” Smith said.
Individuals with mental health issues make up more than 17 percent of the total number of Smith County jail inmates, nearly one in five overall. The process of getting them to the jail takes crisis intervention deputies several hours at a time, simply to prove a patient is mentally incompetent.
“Upfront the ones that don’t have a risk to themselves, we should be able to take them to get psychological help immediately, rather than going through an emergency room, tying up the emergency rooms time,” Smith said.
Regulations sanctioned by the state for mental health patients are also being increased within the jail.
“We have quadrupled the number of people we have on suicide watch in the county jails in the state of Texas right now,” Smith said.
Smith pointed to the facility in Texas with the largest number of mental health patients, the Harris County Jail, as an example.
He said it’s a system he’s working to better improve, alongside fellow members of the Texas Sheriff’s Association. Their legislative committee is fighting for more beds and more efficient mental health review measures.
“Frankly, better facilities, rather than emergency rooms to assess those patients,” Smith said.
It is a proposal they are making a top priority to present to the state during the next legislation.
The sheriff said that while they have increased their amount of local beds for mental health patients, they also lost a number of patients’ beds in areas outside of East Texas, resulting in no net gain for the county.
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