March 7, 2013
HOUSTON - Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia today praised new legislation by State Sen. Joan Huffman to establish a pilot program to treat and provide social services to people with mental illness rather than repeatedly incarcerate them in the Harris County Jail for low-level crimes.
"This landmark legislation is a breakthrough, not only for our neighbors in critical need of care, but also for county taxpayers, who are always in critical need of responsive and responsible government. It's the taxpayers who fund the required high-cost medical health treatment of inmates with mental illness," Sheriff Garcia said.
"People are sick. We should not be criminalizing them for their illness. Rather we should be getting them the help they need outside the county jail, where it does not cost as much," he added. "I'm talking about people who would pose little to no danger to the community while they are being stabilized or are healing."
According to Huffman, a Republican from Harris County who previously served as a felony court judge and assistant district attorney, it costs around $137 per day to keep a defendant with mental illness behind bars, compared to $12 a day for community-based mental health services that probably would have kept each relevant offender out of jail in the first place.
In 2011-2012, 920 inmates cycled through the Harris County jail five or more times, of whom 537, or 58 percent, have a mental illness diagnosis, according to a county study.
Huffman's bill, SB 1185, directs the Texas Department of State Health Services to establish the $5 million treatment and social service pilot program exclusively in Harris County for 500 to 600 individuals through September 2017 as a model for future programs in urban Texas counties.
"This is a marvelous piece of common sense legislation that will save money at a magnitude that could free up funding for me to put even more deputies on patrol, where they can work to prevent crime and respond even more quickly to life-threating emergencies," the sheriff said.
"I urge the residents of Harris County to communicate their support of this bill to their state representative, their state senator and Gov. Perry. I also applaud County Judge Ed Emmett, state Reps. Sylvester Turner and Garnet Coleman and many other elected officials for their leadership on this issue."