This month's Texas Monthly features a "Letter from Houston," which focuses on the city's mental health services, primarily the Houston Police Department's Mental Health Unit, the Harris County Jail and "transinstitutionalizaton, the migration of mentally ill from hospitals to jails and prisons."
The writer, Patricia Kilday Hart, points out that the jail, by default, serves as Texas' largest psychiatric hospital, and any new mental health funding cuts would be disastrous.
That shouldn't be news to anyone in the Houston area who follows the subject, but Hart makes some good points. From the story:
Each new step has been prompted by the outrage and introspection that follows a shooting. But should some of the community outrage be channeled toward policy makers in Austin? ...could it be that our lawmakers have created this nightmare for law enforcement?
And the worst part is that it may end up costing us more money in the end. It is significantly cheaper for the Harris County MHMRA to provide treatment for an adult (around $705 a month) than it is for the Harris County jail to house an inmate in its mental health unit.
The article basically praises the Houston Police Department for its forward thinking in dealing with the mentally ill, but we were disappointed that Hart failed to mention the Chronic Consumer Stabilization Initiative, which the Houston Press wrote about in "Houston's Craziest," a cover story from December of last year.
The program, perhaps the police department's most progressive, assigns two caseworkers from MHMRA to the 30 mentally ill people in city who the police department deal with the most.
Furthermore, CCSI is the first mental health program in the police department to be funded by the city, with health department funds, and not the state. That makes it safe from state legislators who seem to look at mental health services whenever budget cuts are needed.
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When the Press's story was published, CCSI was still in a pilot phase, waiting final approval and funding. The program has now received enough money to operate through 2011, according to Rebecca Skillern, an officer in the police department's Mental Health Unit.
In fact, Skillern told Hair Balls that the CCSI program was recently named one of six finalists for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing, an international award that honors police projects "that have achieved measurable success in resolving recurring specific crime, disorder or public safety problems faced by police and the community."
Past winners include a program that targeted gang murders in Manchester, England, and one that reduced crime at motels in southern California.
Skillern said that the CCSI program hasn't gotten enough money to expand, but, with major mental health cuts looming, knowing that it's safe for at least another year is good news.