A new law signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will require the state to collect data on how often jail inmates are denied mental health care. The law is designed to help the public understand why nearly 2,500 people are waiting for a bed in a state-funded psychiatric hospital and how the system is lacking. But state officials don’t know how long it will take to establish the infrastructure needed to gather this information, Houston Landing reports. Abbott signed the law on Saturday but José Andrés Araiza, spokesman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which would oversee the data collection, said the agency needs more time to “fully analyze the legislation.” The bill, Senate Bill 26, was sponsored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. With Abbott’s signature, the state is now required to audit local mental health authorities – which contract with the commission to provide mental health care statewide – and publish online data related to mental health care.
Experts hope this will help the public learn how often overcrowded jails are denied requests for mental health services for inmates. “By requiring accurate and transparent information, the state can better determine key issues that cause individuals with a mental illness to sit far too long in county jails waiting for mental health treatment,” said Greg Hansch, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Health Texas. The bill was filed soon after the Houston Landing published an investigation in February that found that one third of the 576 people who died of unnatural causes in the custody of Texas jails had a documented mental health concern dating back to the 1980s.