New mental health treatment option aims to keep mentally disabled out of jail

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 11:57am

A new program being implemented by the Mental Health Mental Retardation (MHMR) Center in Waco could keep more mentally disabled patients out of jail and save the county money.

The MHMR Center in Waco is working on a Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT)  team to keep those with untreated mental health issues out of the criminal justice system.

"We typically negotiate with the defense attorneys or the district attorney's office, and try to encourage them to let the person pursue treatment rather than prosecution," said Tom Thomas, Mental Health Director for the Heart of Texas Region HMR Center.

The federal government is providing $300,000 a year to cover the treatment costs, through the 1115 Transformation Waiver Program. It will cover all costs through Medicaid, which is a much cheaper route for the county.

"It costs, nationally, about eight times as much to house an inmate in jail who has a mental health issue than it does a regular inmate," said Thomas.

About five years ago the MHMR Center stepped in treat those arrested that have mental disabilities. Since intervening, they've reduced the number of those arrested with mental disabilites from being at more 412 per month to 106. Typically, Thomas says those arrested are in trouble for "very minor crimes", such as tresspassing, domestic violence, and loitering. 

"Those 106 are those individuals that often times that are kind of treatment resistant, that are often times homeless, substance abuse issues as well. And, they haven't responded to typical types of outpatient treatment," said Thomas.

Patient program times will vary. Patients who have mental illnesses that are untreated have a 80% reincarceration rate. However, this program brings the rate down to 11%.

The county has approved the use of the old Waco juvenile runaway facility to house the program. Hiring is underway now for five staffers. And, the new facility is set to begin operations within the next month.

In September, Thomas says the MHMR intends to add an Outpatient Competency Restoration Program.


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