More Women Are Going to Jail in Need of Drug and Alcohol Treatment

Source: | December 19th, 2017
As a record number of women go to jail in Texas, sheriffs are increasingly coping with a special class of inmates: women with minor criminal records but major mental-health and addiction problems. A recent federal survey found that almost a third of women in jails showed symptoms of serious psychological distress, even higher than the rate for men. And when inmates die in jail, drugs are more commonly the cause for women than for men, according to an analysis of state data by The Dallas Morning News. At least 10 of the 86 female jail fatalities since 2011 were attributed to overdoses. But at least another 10 women died from addiction-related problems that the state failed to track. A higher percentage of women than men are jailed for substance-abuse incidents and don’t get adequate treatment in custody for addiction, said Ranjana Natarajan, director of the University of Texas Law Civil Rights Clinic. “Unless local lockups improve drug treatment”, she said, “you’re going to see a lot of women suffer in jail as a result – and sometimes, they’re going to die.” Texas has no statewide standards for detox procedures in county jails.  Some inmates withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs died while toughing it out cold turkey, suffering cardiac arrest, seizures or committing suicide. Sandra Bland’s suicide while in Jail led the Texas Legislature to pass a law named in her honor this past legislative session. It requires counties to provide inmates with prescribed medications, increase screenings for depression and suicide risk and offer around-the-clock access to mental health professionals. It also requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths. But the new law doesn’t provide money to pay for all of its mandates. Without financial help, most jails won’t be able to meet the standards, said Dennis Wilson, the sheriff of Limestone County. Like many smaller county jails, he contracts out medical services and spends a lot of its budget on health-care expenses, including frequent trips to the emergency room.  Jails were never designed to be stand-ins for mental health facilities or detox centers, but that’s how they’re being used, Wilson said.