Long waiting list for defendants incompetent to stand trial in Texas psychiatric hospitals


DALLAS (TBEN) Court records show that Portia Odufuwa, accused of firing a gun this week at a Dallas Love Field terminal, has a history of being incompetent to stand trial on previous criminal charges for mental health issues.

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said Friday that once Odufuwa is officially charged in the airport case, authorities will have to reassess her ability to stand trial. “If she’s not fit to stand trial, we’ll start all over again, except this time with a crime involving violence. She will have to wait for those kinds of beds, the high-risk beds in state hospitals. “

The problem is, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says that as of July 26, there is a waiting list of nearly 2,500 for state mental health hospitals, where suspects deemed incapable of trial can receive treatment, stabilized and qualified to face trial. to stand.

“The bottom line is that because of the long waits for hospital beds for people like her, she never really got any services.”

Alyse Ferguson, chief attorney for the Collin County Mental Health Managed Counsel, said that because of the waiting list, suspects with felony offenses are disappearing from the system without treatment at the state hospital.

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Those facing a crime must remain in the county jails. “It will be more than two years at best for them to get a state hospital bed. So if they don’t get treated in prison, if they’re just on the waiting list, they may have other incidents within the prison where they get different charges, thereby prolonging their stay and causing further harm to themselves or others.”

A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the agency has several initiatives to work with counties to ease the burden of the large waiting list.

During the past five years in Collin County, Ferguson said judges have ordered defendants on the waiting list to be given drugs in prison so they can be stabilized and ultimately deemed fit to stand trial.

So far this year, she said, 22 defendants have been stabilized and qualified.

That’s 75% of those cases.

“We have saved these individuals from being in our county jail, most of them have saved about nine months of time just waiting. So not only does it benefit the individual, but it certainly helps prevent system congestion and excessive prison populations.”

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In Dallas County, District Attorney Creuzot said they have also had judges recommend medication for some defendants on the waiting list.

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 the homeless or mentally ill charged with minor crimes escape jail and receive the treatment they need.

His office also gave the Dallas Police Department $250,000 to expand the Right Care program, where special teams respond to people with mental health crises.

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

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

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

Ferguson said she also works closely with police forces in Collin County. “I work with the CIT officers in every department in our county, and we meet regularly, we talk, we communicate, if an officer takes someone to our prison, and they’ve identified some mental health issues, they immediately draft us informed and so that we are able to take action from the moment they come in. We have some great agents who go out and contact people even for an arrest or to get around an arrest by trying put them in touch with each other.”

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