The Mentally Ill and the Criminal Justice System: Ideal Categories for Creating Successful Identification and Diversion Programs for Mentally Ill Offenders
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The past decade has seen an explosion of the inmate population in Texas. The number of individuals incarcerated in correctional facilities has increased from approximately 49,000 to 160,000. With the increasing number of inmates, the criminal justice system has begun to focus on particular inmate populations. This focus has uncovered a finding that professionals in the mental health field and those at the local level have suspected for quite some time; the number of mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system accounts for a growing percentage of inmates. The purpose of this paper is to explore policies that deal with mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system at the county level in Texas. The following categories were used to assess county approaches to dealing with mentally ill offenders: 1) Mental health law enforcement training, 2) Jail intake screening, 3) Coordination between law enforcement and mental health professionals, 4) Access to mental health and community treatment programs. A survey of Texas Sheriffs in counties with jail capacities between 250-1000+ beds was used as the methodology for assessing policies for dealing with mentally ill offenders in Texas. The responses indicated that there is a need to more aggressively encourage the implementation of existing statutes and multidisciplinary cooperation.