Mental Health Managed Counsel: saving lives & dollars

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Collin County’s Mental Health Managed Counsel Program is only one of a handful of county advocacy programs in Texas to help keep the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system and into proper treatment and care.

Judging from its first few years of operation, MHMC program coordinator Alyse Ferguson has not only seen thousands of inmates with mental health issues get treatment and legal representation, she’s also tracked substantial cost savings in housing prisoners, psychological testing services, criminal investigations, and court costs.

The program is tailored to manage criminal cases against defendants suffering from mental illness to reduce the odds of re-arrest. These efforts provide a chance for those with mental illness to avoid the revolving door effect of repeated offenses and jailing in the criminal justice system.

In-depth screenings of jail inmates show that about one in four inmates booked into the county jail each year have some type of mental illness. That translates into more than 4,000 people with mental health issues coming into the Collin County jail each year. Between 2013 and 2014, the number of inmates served by the program doubled, and affected more than 3,500 misdemeanor and felony cases during the first 18 months of its existence.

Other measures included enrolling prisoners in established mental health assistance programs, training on identifying and dealing with defendants who have a mental illness, and developing a cooperative network of law enforcement and local mental health providers.

During a Commissioners Court presentation this spring, Ferguson noted that county and grant funds to run the program in 2014 totaled $189,000, with the county’s share coming to about a third of the total cost, and the rest covered by a grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. The savings alone in days spent in jail (including psychiatric medications and other medical care) and competency testing – previously, all at county expense – came to more than $630,000. You can view the entire presentation here, or watch the presentation here.

In November, the  2015 Collin County Mental Health Symposium will try to fine tune how to best handle mental health issues, local processes, and share ideas to expand the network and services for those with mental illness.  The Symposium hopes to attract even more mental health advocates, providers, first responders, attorneys, Judges, detention officers, and local law enforcement as participants in the event to expand the team network.