“Minds That Matter”

Victoria Advocate  
May 29, 2016 

For years we have heard the jails are full of people who have mental illness and there are not enough resources to help them.

Advocate courts reporter Jessica Priest decided to look into that statement to see how true it is for the Advocate’s readership area. After earning a fellowship to a John Jay College of Criminal Justice conference on mental health and the criminal justice system, she launched a more than year-long investigation into the local mental health situation. Her findings are eye opening. She continues to find more and more people who want to tell their story about their conditions and their jail stays.

She has worked closely with the local mental health agency as well as the county jail to do some of her research and to help discuss possible solutions to the problems. While she ran into bureaucratic roadblocks, she kept digging.

To help launch her project the Advocate held a town hall meeting on mental illness. People of all walks of life attended to get the conversation going. Many have become a part of her reporting.

She has sought out agencies in other cities that have had successes with diverting the mentally ill from jail.

Priest has done tremendous work reporting and understanding the issue. Each of her four main installments has accompanying online elements to give readers more insight into the issue. We invite you to visit the online special report to see the online element of the project.

Priest’s reporting has begun to bring around results. Recently the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office partnered with a large medical center to privatize medical services for the jail, making psychiatrists available 24/7. This is a huge move to help those with mental health issues.

Another area county sheriff recently received approval to get mental health training for some of its jailers/deputies.
A group of community members is also working on developing a collaborative to divert people with mental illnesses from jails and reduce recidivism. Representatives recently asked state legislators for $11.6 million to fund the program.

LINK to content online

Submitted by Jessica Priest.

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