EXCLUSIVE: New Mental Health Court Could Be The Solution to Midland County Jail Problems 3/15/13
CBS 7 News Reporter
March 15, 2013
Midland County, TX - The Midland County Sheriff's Department says they're seeing a growing number of inmates suffering from mental health problems.
Now stakeholders from across the medical, judicial and law enforcement fields are coming together to find a solution.
More than 300 inmates fill the beds of the Midland County Jail each night, pushing the jail population to a max everyday. But a growing problem amongst the inmates has Sheriff Gary Painter looking for outside input.
"I would say probably anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the inmates in custody have some type of a mental crisis or some type of a mental situation," said Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter.
Sheriff Painter and Midland 238th District Court Judge Elizabeth Leonard believe that a mental health court could help decrease that number.
There are only 3 certified mental health jailers in the Midland County Sheriff's Department. But the population of inmates suffering from mental health problems continues to grow.
Painter recently began a mental health-training program to certify jailers on how to handle inmates with a mental crisis. But he says this is not enough.
He believes the mental health issue is connected to pre-existing conditions and possibly substance abuse problems.
“The local psychiatric hospitals are working with us very closely. We have more and more juveniles coming in and having to deal with addiction problems…[sic] the bath salts the K2s all of that," said Painter.
He says talks of a new mental health court may be the solution to get many offenders the help they need, instead of locking them behind bars.
Midland 238th District Court Judge Elizabeth Leonard is spearheading this project.
"They would still have to adhere to all the terms of regular probation. But in addition to that there are some additional requirements that are court ordered, in regards to mental health treatment,” said Midland 238th District Court Judge Elizabeth Leonard.
Judge Leonard has been working for months with more than 20 stakeholders to collect data on having a voluntary mental health court.
She says that this system has statistically shown in the past to be more beneficial to criminals who have mental issues.
"There is less time between mental health episodes. They're not as frequent or aren't as severe. Maybe in terms of getting booked into jail and their recidivism that would be significantly decreased, if not erased all together," said Leonard.
The decision to have a mental health court in Midland has not been finalized.
Judge Leonard says that if the court does happen the defendants would be required to have court ordered counseling, treatment and to discuss their current probation on a regular basis.