TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The largest mental health facility in Travis County is not a hospital. According to District Judge Andy Brown, the largest mental health facility in our county is the prison.
“Which is unacceptable to me,” Brown said. “So we’re trying to follow patterns around the country that do a better job of identifying people brought in by the police who really need mental health but aren’t satisfied.”
The county is considering building a psychiatric center to treat people going through a mental health crisis instead of sending them to prison. Brown traveled the country studying existing patterns in places like Nashville, Miami-Dade and Harris County.
“It seems to me that this is perhaps a combination of everything we have seen to do something that is outside of the criminal justice system, but effectively gives people the stabilization treatment they need and then helps them get supportive housing. ‘ Brown said. .
These efforts can help not only with the growing number of inmates in the local prison, but also with the long waiting list in the state hospital, which is used to restore the capacity of people involved in the criminal system.
About 2,500 people are currently on that waiting list, according to the executive director of the Texas Mental Health Judiciary Commission.
“I think we can all agree that this is an unsustainable number. Ultimately, it looks like a two-year wait for those who have committed more serious offenses,” said Christie Taylor, executive director of this commission.
Brown said funding for the physical building and its operations will likely differ, but the county is considering federal grants, state funding, and coordination with the city of Austin. The body can also ask voters to help fund the project.
The specific cost of construction and operation has not yet been determined.
Problem: in numbers
There are about 8,000 more people in the county jail now than there were before the pandemic, Brown said. On any given day before COVID-19, there were about 1,400 people in prison. According to him, today there are about 2,200 of them.
To add, the number of people with psychiatric status as measured by the state has more than doubled, from 21% before the pandemic to 45%, according to Brown.