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Lawmakers Weighing Options With Mental Illness In Texas Prison Population

According to state officials, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice counts a large number of inmates with mental illness and drug addiction because the state lacks funding for their treatment. 

On Tuesday members of the House Corrections and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a special joint committee hearing to discuss the huge influx of mentally ill people who are being sent to prison.  

"In 2008 approximately 17 percent of Texas county jail populations were on psychotropic medications," said state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chair of the House Corrections Committee. "Unfortunately more and more often our jails are becoming the psychiatric hospitals of today. While we have the tools to treat them in prison, many lack the tools once they are released back in society."

Brad Livingston, the head of the TDCJ, said much of their prison population has some form of drug addiction, about 62 percent.

“Now if you take the other number, roughly 25,000 offenders who have mental illness, their percentage of chemical dependency is somewhat higher, roughly 67 percent," Livingston said.

Livingston said they’ve been having some success in reducing repeat criminals, but he said the problem is upstream with county jails and courts diagnosing someone early enough for them to receive treatment.

Livingston said he'd like to see the Texas Legislature setting more money aside for the treatment of mental illness within the Texas prison population, he'd also like to see a budget increase for programs within Texas' parole system.

Between 2012 and 2013, the state spent $60 million on mental health services and $172 million on drug treatment.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.