It is a lengthy and challenging process for mentally ill inmates inside the Dallas prison system to be transferred to a proper mental hospital. As reported by the Dallas News, these inmates sometimes must wait over 800 days before being moved, often without trial.
If a person is labeled as “legally incompetent,” or without the capacity to comprehend what they are being persecuted for, they will be held in prison under a “pre-trial.” During this time, the state will conduct an evaluation of the person and seek out a hospital bed for them. Unfortunately, this process is lengthy, and the defendant must wait in prison despite still being presumed innocent. “Many of them will spend far longer in jail than if they were convicted of that offense,” says Alycia Welch, the associate director of the UT Prison and Jail Innovation Lab.
Aside from the suffering of prisoners awaiting a bed, having an excess of these inmates costs taxpayers money. At around $62 to feed and house an inmate every day, the Texas prison system consumes $1.27 million per day.
Such problems finding room for psychiatric inmates have occurred since 2015, when WFAA found that 78 prisoners were stuck on the waiting list. In 2022, there are over 400 inmates currently waiting, with the average time being 160 days on nonviolent charges or 330 days on violent charges. Compared to other Texas cities, Dallas leads in both the number of inmates awaiting a transfer and the average wait time.
A compounding of multiple factors has led to the lack of spots in mental hospitals. National staffing shortages stemming from the pandemic have caused mental hospitals to lose thousands of employees. To combat this, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission plan to build a $282.5 million hospital in Dallas Fort-Worth to house and treat mentally ill patients.
Funding has also proved to be an issue, with the state diverting funds to programs such as the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority, which helps provide mental health services. According to The Dallas Morning News, the state has added $1.2 billion since 2017 to help fund mental health support in prisons.
Despite efforts being made to reform the system, mental health issues will likely continue to plague prisons. Research by the Prison Policy Initiative has found that incarceration has immense mental effects on those with and without preexisting symptoms. “The prison environment is almost diabolically conceived to force the offender to experience the pangs of what many psychiatrists would describe as mental illness,” states mental health expert Dr. Seymour L. Halleck. Due to the pressures of being inside the prisons, inmates will continue to need access to psychiatric help through mental services and hospitals.