In 2006, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office embarked upon an innovative and comprehensive new initiative to update the mental health protocols within the Harris County Jails and to implement new “Best-Practice” strategies for the care, custody, and control of the growing mentally ill inmate population. A startling illustration of the growing mental health problem came from a recent MHMRA Local Plan Review, which stated:
- There are approximately 500,000 adult Harris County residents who experience a mental health condition each year;
- Approximately 140,000 of those suffer a severe mental illness, such as severe depression, bipolar disease and/or schizophrenia;
- Almost half of adult Harris County residents who suffer from a severe mental illness could not access treatment; and
- Approximately 20 percent of inmates in the Harris County Jails have a history of mental illness.
According to some experts, the Harris County Jail has become the largest mental health facility in the state and one of the largest in the nation based upon the percentage of the inmate population taking prescribed psycho-tropic medication. To meet the demands of the growing numbers of inmates with mental illnesses, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office established the Mental Health Unit (MHU). The newly formed MHU, which is a collaborative effort between the Sheriff’s Office, Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMRA), and the Harris County Psychiatric Center (HCPC), represents a new paradigm for the treatment of mental illness within the detention setting and strikes a balance between detention and treatment.
The primary components of the Mental Health Unit may be summarized as the three “P’s:” Personnel, Process, and Plant, with Plant referring to the physical structures that exist within the detention setting.