Mental health docket addresses needs in Texas jails - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Mental health docket addresses needs in Texas jails

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This week marks history for the state of Texas, as the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals met in a joint hearing to continue the dialogue surrounding those individuals incarcerated with unmet mental health needs. 

"The number of people that have depression every year is about the same number who have diabetes," said President of Meadows Mental Health Dr. Andrew Keller. "It's actually a little bit less then the number of diabetes. We feel like we can treat diabetes. Why don't we always feel like we can treat depression?" 

As the dialogue continues, one thing remains sure: There is always going to be a mental health issue. The question is, what do we do about it? 

"The problem is, and the problem will always be, there's going to be a mental health issue in Texas and in the United States and the world," said Potter County Judge Nancy Turner. "For as long as we are alive. Now what do we do about it? I don't know. We keep praying, we keep trying to help them.

Some people will never be okay, and we need more hospitals, we need more beds in the hospitals we do have. To keep them housed longer, to get the help that they need. And so it's a problem. And I am happy to know that they are doing something about it in Austin."

A mental heath docket was created by Judge Nancy Tanner in 2015 to address the local mental health needs here in the Panhandle.

"I started that back in 2015, and out of the 70 people that I've seen, only four have graduated," said Judge Tanner. "So you can see, it's an uphill battle. But out of the 70, four people have changed their lives for the better. Now that's a small step and I'm not patting myself on the back because it takes a lot of people to get this done."

One of Tanner's graduates thanks her for offering those with mental health issues an alternative to the standard jail cell. With this program, the inmates are creating long-term change as they work towards becoming productive citizens. 

"You start with your foundation and work up and that's what I've done," said Mental Health Docket Graduate Victor Smith. "So it's been kind of a slow process, but it's better to take things slow and do them right then just try to fly by the seat of your pants. That's what I felt like I was doing the past, I don't know how many years. 10, 20, 30 years. Ya know?"

The joint hearing solidified the creation of a Judicial Commission on Mental Health. The commission will meet for the first time next month to discuss plans to better serve those Texans suffering from unmet mental health needs. 

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