Candidates' Forum Addresses Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice

Candidates for the top three offices in Harris County discuss the problem of Harris County jail inmates who have behavioral health problems. Attendees to the forum hear solutions to a situation that carries a high price tag in dollars and lives lost. Pat Hernandez has more.
Due to the lack of funding to treat people with mental health and substance abuse, the Harris County Jail often holds inmates with chronic behavioral health problems.

Judge Pat Lykos wants to be the next Harris County District Attorney.

"We have to have both housing and services. One without the other is a waste of money, but more importantly, you're not helping, and then we're squandering lives. We can turn it around, but everybody's got to work together on this."

Her opponent, former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford says there are people who should not be in the Harris County Jail.

"There are people who we can hold accountable by means other than locking everybody up. I'm not an advocate of allowing people commit offenses that go free, but let's look at ways that we can one, protect the community, hold offenders accountable and offer rehabilitation services."

The rate of Harris County Jail inmates with mental illness is three times greater than the rate of persons with a severe mental illness in the general population.

Incumbent Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas: "We're looking for help in any direction we can, but like I stated earlier, it's a continuation thing. It's not just us, it has to be, when we release these people, there has to be somewhere for them to go."

His challenger is Houston City CM Adrian Garcia. He says the problem of dealing with the mentally ill seems to have us chasing our tail.

"I think today's discussion is an great opportunity for us to come together and realize that there is consensus on wanting to effectively address this issue without necessarily criminalizing people. So I think this is a great opportunity for us to come up with new ways of thinking, new business practices and better use of the taxpayer's money."

87 million dollars is spent to house and treat people with mental illness. Incumbent Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says it's a problem that won't be solved overnight.

"They should not be in the criminal justice system. They need to be in a mental health system, and I look forward to working with the legislature and seeing if we can re-institute some of the state programs that were in the past."

Emmett is facing challenger David Minceberg.

"I liked the single issue approach. I think I would have preferred it to be just my opponent and me so that we could have more effectively squared off on some of the issues."

Nearly one fourth of inmates in the Harris County Jail have a diagnosable mental illness.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Pat Hernandez

Pat Hernandez

Reporter

Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...