Dallas County officials try to ease jail pressure with more mental health funding

Dallas County elected officials have approved spending more than $4.3 million on a problem that has plagued its jail: a lack of beds in state mental hospitals for defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial.

The money is intended to reserve a modest number of slots in North Texas behavioral health facilities for people to regain competency and return to the criminal court system.

“We’ve been talking about the big challenge we have with competency for a long time,” said Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia. “So I’m feeling very optimistic.”

The money, which comes from the county’s share of federal COVID-19 relief dollars, will fund a total of 16 beds. According to A county proposalit will serve about 113 people during one year.

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The North Texas Behavioral Health Authority (NTBHA) will serve as the contractor and solicit bids from mental health entities to provide the actual health services, said Walter Taylor, NTBHA’s chief strategy officer.

“Our hope [is] that service providers that are in the area will see the offer, read it and find the capacity to, somehow, rise to the occasion,” Taylor told KERA.

Providers will earn $800 per day per bed. Taylor said it’s possible the beds are located at different facilities.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Garcia and Commissioner John Wiley Price brought up the issue of people transferred to a facility to restore their competency, but who lose competency again upon their return as their court case winds down.

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“Who will be in charge of ensuring that, after they are restored to competence, those persons immediately come to court?” Asking price.

County staff said part of the agreement with NTBHA is for the agency to hire a coordinator to help the county with that transition back to court.

The state of Texas is normally responsible for treating people deemed incompetent to stand trial, but there are hundreds of people in the Dallas County Jail awaiting transfer to a state mental hospital. On Dallas Morning News reported during the summer that some people wait years for competency restoration services, sometimes longer than any potential sentence.

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Taylor said there are “a lot of different factors” in how long it might take a person to regain competency to re-enter court proceedings, but he hopes 30 to 60 days will be achieved through the new program.

The Dallas County Jail was at about 82 percent capacity Wednesday.

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