Mental Health Creates Costly Problem At Co. Jail

Mental Health Creates Costly Problem At Co. Jail

Budget cuts to mental health programs are creating a costly and dangerous problem in the Clay County jail.

Texoma experts and Clay County Sheriff Kenny Lemons believe jail isn't the place for a person who is mentally ill. They believe they should be in a mental health institution but law enforcement continues to keep them locked up because sometimes a mental facility is not an option. Just blame mental health budget cuts.

"It seems like we are incarcerating them more and more over time simply due to the fact that there's lack of funding for beds, treatment and things like that," said Lemons.

Keeping the mentally ill in jail has been a costly battle for the sheriff. The county has to pay for all their medical expenses. They're allowed to receive care in jail but sometimes detention officers have to drive them to appointments. Lemons says all those expenses have cost him $95,000 a year.

"We're so short handed to start with, it's a burden on them because of the personnel restraints. And then the mileage you put in and the time and all that, it's a long drown out deal," said the sheriff.

Having someone who is mentally ill locked up has even created a safety concern for detention officers.

Lemons says, "Recently in our jail a mentally ill person took his prosthesis leg off and attacked one of the detention officers with it. Now if you can imagine a metal rod attached to a tennis shoe, it makes a pretty good weapon."

The state of Texas recently increased funds for mental health but experts say they're simply not enough to help the growing number of people who need services. That's why some are kept in jail even if they committed a non-violent crime. But sometimes they might not meet the criteria to stay in an institution or might just be chronically dysfunctional.

"Because they're not actively homicidal due to their illness, just chronically dysfunctional or sometimes homeless, that creates a lot of issues, there's really not a place for those folks to go," said Roddy Atkins, the executive director of the Helen Farabee Center.

Tanya De Jesus, Newschannel 6