Jails: "A Problem We Can't Build (Spend)
Our Way Out Of"
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
January 26, 2006
During my brief time in the Texas Legislature, we had a prison space crisis. Most all of us thought, "More prisons!" The experts told us, "You have a problem you cannot build (spend) your way out of." This forever changed the way I would view jails and prisons.
Given that we cannot compromise safety, what common sense measures would allow us to avoid millions to taxpayers in addition to what inmates have already cost us? Remember, every 400 inmates in your Bexar County Jail costs us about $7 million annually and we have on average, 4,000 incarcerated! That is $70 million annually! I would like to see an average, responsible jail population of 3,200 and save $14 million annually.
To do this, let's focus on just two areas in this article. 1. The "dumb tax" we pay for indiscriminate incarceration. 2. Pre-incarceration costs for getting the inmate into the system. The Crisis Care Center goes a long way to cure both.
Square Pegs in Round Holes
As the Chairman of the Commissioner's Court Jail Population Committee, I have learned that there are regularly 400 to 600 seriously mentally-ill inmates in our jail. They may be substance abusers or those who are just mentally-ill. A number of them are needlessly cycling and then recycling through our justice system.
Our outstanding Executive Director for the Center for Health Care Services, Leon Evans recalled one man detained at a fast-food restaurant after customers and employees there reported him reciting the Lord's Prayer loudly. Suffering from schizophrenia, the man used the prayer to quiet the voices in his head. Although he wasn't violent, the police officer took him to jail where he languished for six months! OK, 6 X 30 days X $50 = $9,000.00. Today, this person would make a good candidate for diversion to the Crisis Care Center.
Saving Time for Officers, Money to Taxpayers
Prior to the institution of the Crisis Care Center, a psychiatric emergency would take about an hour of the arresting officer's time. A medical clearance (a cut to a broken arm) would require 8 to 9 hours of an officer's time spent at the UHS Emergency Room! This applied to all arresting law enforcement officers.
With the new, advanced process, Dr. David Hnatow (pronounced like "NATO", Director of Emergency Operations at UHS, believes that the average time consumed for an officer responding to a mental health crisis is 15 minutes for psychiatric persons and is 45 minutes to one hour for medical clearance at the new Crisis Care Center.
This also frees up the UHS Emergency Room for regular emergencies. If you take your baby in for a broken ear drum, you don't want to be by some guy shackled to a law enforcement officer.
Although the figures are conservatively estimated, $600,000.00 is the projected annual savings from implementation of the new program.
Measuring the Potential Economic and Societal Benefits
- Interim results of the program show over 1,700 diversions from jail incarcerations during state Fiscal Year 2004, potentially resulting in an estimated range of $3.8 million to $5.0 million dollars in avoided costs within the Bexar County Criminal Justice System.
- Jail diversion programs have been shown to have positive impacts on decreasing incarceration time for the severely mentally ill, while increasing access to, and utilization of, comprehensive psychiatric services.
- Due to the organized structure of the Bexar County Jail Diversion Program and the thoroughness of the concurrent data collection process, a unique opportunity exists to measure the actual societal cost-benefit derived (in city, county and state dollars) from the jail diversion program in the near future, with continuance of the program.
This is just one of the important initiatives being pursued to reduce bloated jail population and an equally bloated tax bill in Bexar County. I look forward to sharing with you the many other initiatives being pursued to deliver the best possible county government in Texas or beyond!