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Lt. Gov. Launches Interim Study Of Mental Health Policies At State Jails

Ryan E. Poppe
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has ordered a senate committee to review the mental health policies in place at all of the state’s 243 county jails.  The study follows the death of Sandra Bland, which captured national attention in July.

Patrick was adamant, the senate committee’s hearing on mental health standards and suicide prevention at county jails will not focus on Sandra Bland’s death at the Waller County jail.

“But the fact that that story and other suicides have been in the news recently are what brought this to the attention of everyone and that’s why we’re doing it, I don’t talk about ongoing litigation," Patrick said.

Credit Ryan E. Poppe
Chair Of The Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. John Whitmire, SD-15.

  During her booking into jail, Bland self-reported that she had recently been treated for depression and in 2014 attempted suicide.  Guards later found Bland hanging from a garbage bag that was left in her cell.

The Lt. Gov. asked the Chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, John Whitmire to investigate what procedures are in place at county jails for identifying inmates with mental health issues or a potential suicide risk.

“As soon as I heard about Ms. Bland’s tragedy, I ordered the jail standards commission to go to Waller, where they immediately found two deficiencies; one failure to view the confining hourly and lack of proper mental health training.  Unfortunately I think this is not the exception, but quite often the routine across the state.  When you have a weak link or a broken link as it was in Waller it affects the whole system and people’s confidence in the system," Whitmire explained.

Texas has seen an average of 25 suicides in county lockups each year since 2012.

The senate committee will begin meeting next month.  An interim House panel has also begun an investigation.