Slashing funds for community-based mental health care will hurt taxpayers and degrade the quality of life for thousands of mentally ill Texans and their families, Harris County Jail officials told Texas budget writers today in written testimony for the Senate Finance Committee.
Current budget proposals would cut more than $1.1 billion from community-based mental health programs, and would gut some entirely.
Dr. Michael Seale, executive director for health services at the Harris County Jail and a member of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, told lawmakers they would save taxpayers more money in the long run by adequately funding community-based mental health programs that help keep people out of the big house and in treatment. The average daily cost to treat someone in a community-based setting, Seale said, is about $12 daily. In prison, it costs about $137 daily to care for mentally ill inmates. "Clearly, state and local taxpayers enjoy greater safety and greater savings when state-funded mental health programs succeed," Seale wrote.
On any given day, about one-quarter of the Harris County Jail population, about 2,400 inmates, takes prescribed psychotropic medications, making it the largest mental health institution in the state. If there are fewer community-based programs to help mentally ill Texans, more of them will land in jails that are ill-equipped and already struggling to deal with a growing special needs population. "Further erosion of state mental health funding for programs in the county will lead to more strain on law enforcement and higher bills for taxpayers," wrote Major Mike Smith, commander of Harris County's detention bureau.