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Bexar County programs aims to better prepare mentally unfit inmates awaiting trial

Inmates waiting in jail can’t get the mental health treatment they need to continue their court case. The program will address that.

SAN ANTONIO — A new program looks to help hundreds of Bexar County jail inmates strengthen their grasp on their respective court cases while navigating a complicated legal system. 

The Center for Health Care Services (CHCS) announced the partnership alongside the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, which has support from Bexar County Pct. 3 Commissioner Grant Moody. Staff say the program is the first of its kind in Bexar County, which has dealt with population issues at the jail.

“Jails should be for people that society’s afraid of… it’s certainly not for the people that are mentally ill,” Sheriff Javier Salazar said about the facility, which has an estimated 300 inmates deemed unfit to stand trial.

Staff will screen inmates and provide either individual or group services to help that individual become competent enough to stand trial. Priority will be given to inmates with the longest waits in jail, which on average can be 18 to 24 months.

“We’ll work one on one with them so that they can understand their charge, who their defense attorney is, getting them reconnected with the attorney so that they can speak within their own defense and continue due process,” said Monica Torres, director of justice programs at CHCS. 

Although competency restoration can vary depending on the person, Torres says they hope to screen patients 48 hours after identifying if they’re eligible for the program. A risk assessment will be conducted on the person to make sure they can work with others.

CHCS will have a dedicated space on the fourth floor of the jail to provide those services, which can include treatment for individual disorders or substance abuse, along with getting them to understand their case.

“A lot of times, it could be severe psychosis or other symptoms that are inhibiting their ability to understand the rational and factual of their case,” Torres said.

The program will instead bring those services from a state hospital directly to certain inmates in the jail. Funds from a $1.6 million Department of Justice grant will support the program through the end of 2024, with the goal of helping 40 inmates this year and 80 next year.

“This grant award is timely, relevant and pressing in our community, as one in five Bexar County residents struggle with mental health challenges,” said Jelynne LeBlanc Jamison, president and CEO of CHCS.

Staff say the competency restoration services will reduce the waitlist for a psychiatric bed and speed up the due process of their case.

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