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Dallas County to state: lawsuit is coming if you don’t find mental health beds

Dallas County commissioners are stepping up efforts to get needed mental health care for county jail inmates who are deemed incompetent to stand trial.

These prisoners must first have their competence restored before a criminal case can be continued. County officials have been pointing out for months that the Texas state government is responsible for making that happen.

However, there is a long waiting list for competency restoration services in Texas. That means people whose guilt has yet to be proven languish in county jails while they wait for a state hospital to open.

“They may be in great need of mental health help and apparently did not commit this offense,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins. “It is very important to … taxpayers, victims and prisoners that the state does its job.”

Now, months after sending the Dallas County Legislative Delegation recommendations to improve waiting timesthe provincial commissioners are stepping up their actions.

Through a district attorney, commissioners sent a letter to the Texas Attorney General and the head of the Health and Human Services Commission on Tuesday. It said the county “requires HHSC to designate state facilities with available beds within 30 days of this correspondence” to admit the more than 300 people currently awaiting recovery in the county jail.

“This is an attempt to resolve this matter without litigation and notice,” the letter said. If the state fails to make the beds available, “Dallas County will have no choice but to file a lawsuit … to enforce compliance.”

The letter argues that the HHSC violates the state’s criminal procedure law, which states that transportation to a mental health facility must be made “within a reasonable time and without undue delay.”

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County officials say the average wait time for a maximum security state bed for a male defendant was 831 days as of December 2022, and health care for these inmates can exceed $469 per day.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission declined to comment. The attorney general’s office declined to comment.

Jenkins said the county has so far had no success in talks with the state about the large number of people waiting for mental health care. The letter, he said, is another attempt to resolve it.

“Those are a bunch of other things that our taxpayers have to do that aren’t getting done because you’re spending almost $800,000 a month on something you don’t have to spend your money on,” he said.

Jenkins also said other counties “may” join the legal effort, but did not provide additional details.

Do you have a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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