Long waiting list for defendants unable to stand trial in Texas mental health hospitals

DALLAS (CBSDW.COM) Court records show that Portia Odufuwa, accused of shooting a gun inside a Dallas Love Field terminal this week, has a history of incompetence to stand trial on previous criminal charges due to mental health problems.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Friday that once Odufuwa is officially indicted in the airport case, authorities will once again need to determine if she is capable of standing trial. “If she’s not competent to stand trial, then let’s start over, except this time with a crime involving violence. She’ll have to wait for those kinds of beds, the high-risk beds in state hospitals.”

The problem is that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says there is a waiting list of nearly 2,500 beds in state mental health hospitals as of July 26, where defendants deemed unable to stand trial can receive treatment. stabilize and be competent to be processed.

“The bottom line is because there is a long wait for hospital beds for people like her, she has never received any service.”

Alyse Ferguson, chief attorney for Collin County mental health legal counsel, said that due to the waiting list, defendants with minor offenses leave the system without receiving state hospital care.

Those charged with felony must remain in county jails. “It will take more than two years at the most before they get a bed in a state hospital. So if they are not treated in prison, if they are only on the waiting list, other incidents could be involved in the prison where they are receiving other charges, extending their stay and causing further harm to themselves or to others “.

A spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the agency has a number of initiatives working with counties to ease the burden of the large waiting list.

Over the past five years in Collin County, Ferguson said judges have ordered waiting list defendants to be medicated in jail so they can be stabilized and ultimately found competent to stand trial.

So far this year, he said, 22 defendants have been stabilized and become competent.

This is 75% of those cases.

“We saved these people from sitting in our county jail, most of them saved about nine months of time sitting and waiting. So it not only benefits the individual, but it definitely helps prevent system clogging and excessive prison population “.

In Dallas County, District Attorney Creuzot said the judges also issued drug orders for some waiting list defendants.

He said his office is primarily trying to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system.

Creuzot recently opened the Dallas County Deflection Center which helps homeless or mentally ill people accused of low-level crimes avoid jail and get the treatment they need.

His office also donated $ 250,000 to the Dallas Police Department to expand the Right Care program, in which special teams respond to people who have a mental health crisis.

Creuzot also donated a total of $ 200,000 to the cities of Addison, Carrollton, Coppell and Farmers Branch to help pay for a homelessness and mental health assessment in their cities.

He said: “What we are trying to do once again is to prevent these people from ending up in prison, but on the other hand, to provide services so that we can improve their lives, make the community safer and of course save money. tax money. That’s the goal of that project. “

Last month, Creuzot asked Dallas County commissioners to expand the number of mental health prosecutors in his office.

Ferguson said he also works closely with police departments in Collin County. “I work with CIT officers in every department in our county and we meet regularly, talk, communicate, if an officer brings someone to our prison and they have identified some mental health problems, they inform us immediately and so we are able to take action from The moment they cross the threshold. We have great officers who will go out and make contact with people, even before an arrest or to get around an arrest trying to put them in contact. “

Ferguson, Creuzot, and others in the criminal justice system told CBS 11 that the state legislature needs to spend more money on mental health to help address the problem.

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