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Sandra Bland Act will affect county jail services

Wichita Falls Times Record News - 6/18/2017

June 17--Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom met with attorneys, mental health staff, and representatives of inmate health group Southwest Medical on Friday to discuss how the recently signed Sandra Bland Act will affect the county.

The state law was signed June 15 by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The law is named after a woman who was pulled over in 2015 by a state trooper, arrested, and later found dead in a Waller County jail. The death was ruled a suicide and it was later revealed that Bland had a history of mental health issues and may have suffered from depression.

The Sandra Bland Act requires jail staff to immediately determine if an inmate suffers from mental illness and divert that person to a mental health facility.

While the law is monumental in a more proactive approach to mental health services, the county must consider how they can comply with this law without any additional funding.

County mental health case manager Shawnee Lofland said it is their goal already to identify and help any inmates that may have mental health issues.

Sometimes, she said, a person may be determined unable to stand trial, but then once they are on proper medication, they recover. In other instances, a person may be at the state hospital, recover, then come back to jail and their health deteriorates.

Southwest Medical said they can provide crisis mental health services as part of their contract with the county, but presently costs would be steep. Gossom said he saw the cost figure, and he knows it's reasonable for the service, but the county has not found the money for it now.

County attorney Meredith Kennedy said her staff and the medical group can review the law and see what new mandates will be placed on the county to comply with the Sandra Bland Act. The group agreed to meet again July 20 to discuss further action.

The Wichita County Sheriff's Office said on average, more than half of inmates the jail have mental health issues. An ideal situation would be prescreening, de-escalation training and crisis intervention units on the streets before a person ends up in jail. The Sandra Bland Act ensures earlier mental health evaluations by police to make sure the person gets the help they need before going to jail.

San Antonio, which already utilizes screening and diversion of mentally ill people, has seen $10 million in savings per year. Housing an inmate in jail can cost $31,000 a year while community mental health services can be about $10,000.

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(c)2017 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)

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