GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — At Tuesday’s commissioner court meeting, Williamson County leaders heard more details about a competency restoration program at the county’s jail – this would speed up time inmates with mental illness wait to receive treatment in order to stand trial.
The program is being lead by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, which provides mental health services across the county.
During the meeting, BTCS Executive Director Andrea Richardson said an application has already been submitted to Texas Health and Human Services for $500,000 in funding.
While no contract has been agreed on yet, an additional $500,000 would be matched by the county, Richardson told KXAN during follow up discussions on the proposal.
Regardless, Richardson and Williamson County Sheriff Mike Gleason said the program could get underway as soon as this spring and last for 12 months once funding is in place.
The program would, according to its developers, add a forensic psychologist and additional mental health providers to the jail in order to treat inmates awaiting trial.
This in an effort to reduce the time they wait in jail which has been prolonged by the long wait lists for state hospitals.
KXAN investigators have been following the struggles of the state hospital system – currently thousands are waiting for treatment.
Wednesday, a legislative meeting on the issue assessed chronic problems facing state hospitals like understaffing and lack of bed space.
Williamson County Sheriff Mike Gleason says the jail has already formed a special “pod” for inmates of this type.
Because those jailed with mental illness are considered a vulnerable population, said Sheriff Gleason, historically they may have been kept in isolation which further harmed their mental health.
“They may have been isolated for medical reasons, it might be for psychiatric reasons. But the longer those people wait and wait in my jail – waiting on a forensic bed to get to another facility in the state. Sometimes it’s very, very difficult to get them back to that point of competency,” said Sheriff Gleason.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey was outspoken on her support for the program during Tuesday’s meeting.
She says this is the best workaround to ensure justice for victims of crimes committed by inmates with mental illness – in the most humane manner possible.
“If we did not have this program, these folks are sitting in our jail for up to two, three years. It’s the right thing for the person in our jail, but it’s also the right thing for everybody associated with this issue that caused them to be in the jail,” said Commissioner Covey.
Lynda Frost is a consultant well-versed in the struggles facing the justice system in Texas.
She says many communities across the state use an outpatient program like the one proposed for Williamson County – a major critique of proposals like the county’s are that jails cannot provide an environment conducive to mental health.
“Jails are far from ideal environments from competency restoration. I think what we’re seeing are communities that are desperate looking for workarounds to try to reduce the number of people who are just waiting in jail,” said Frost.