Pieces in the Criminal Justice Puzzle
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
October 2, 2006
Over the past several weeks many of you have seen media reports about my thoughts on a possible tent jail in Bexar County. First of all, I understand that this is a facility that can be run by either the Sheriff or the Adult Probation Office. The idea is out of the box but candidly, I am unsure if we can leave any idea off the table if it helps economize without jeopardizing the safety of our citizens.
The idea came about from information from people well acquainted with the criminal justice system that about 20% of our current jail population of 4,200 or about 840 individuals are in our jail not so much for any other reason than for three square meals, medical attention, air conditioning and TV! It only seems fair from all sides to not incentivized incarceration and not to saddle the public with this portion of our jail population's expense.
I intend to develop this idea over the next few weeks by meeting with the Sheriff and other officials including Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County Arizona with a visit to his tent camp.
In the meantime and speaking of other things we do to intelligently handle mental health cases, according to Leon Evans, Executive Director of the Bexar County Center for Health Care Services, we have about 700 persons brought to our Crisis Care Unit at the Robert B. Green by law enforcement monthly who would have otherwise been taken to the Bexar County Jail or to the Emergency room at UHS. This saved and continues to save the County (jail and hospital) and City (downtime for police officers) considerable resources. This effort earned the American Psychiatric Association's highest award, the Gold Award for being the most exemplary psychiatric service in the nation!
We also have a jointly operated program with Bexar County Adult Probation to divert people out of jail into a sixty-bed facility for persons with mental illness on Applewhite Road. We have two 100-bed facilities, one at Applewhite and one on the campus of San Antonio State Hospital, totaling 200 beds, for first-time substance abusers. That is 260 persons diverted from jail, freeing up space for violent offenders.
Then on the civil side we pay for a case worker in Judge Polly Jackson Spencer's Court for Mental Health Outpatient Commitments to keep the repeat mental health commitment individuals on their medications and hence out of jail, emergency rooms and inpatient settings. We have persons at the booking point of the process to identify persons who can be diverted. We also check all persons who are booked or who are placed in jail to see if they have been treated in the mental health system so we can work on a peace bond or work with Judges to get them out of jail or step them down to one of those facilities described above. We have engaged a medical economist who is working on a cost/benefit analysis that will be completed in about seven months. We will be able to give more objective data at that time. No one in the nation is doing more than our community/ CHCS is making to assure that the mentally ill are treated where it is unnecessary to incarcerate them.
And, these are just a few of the many things being done to most responsibly handle our jail population!