The Harris County Jail is trying out a new approach in combating mental health issues after two recent inmate suicides. The Harris County Jail has partnered with The Harris Center, a mental health authority, to provide inmates access to a suicide hotline.
The 60-day pilot program, which contains no additional costs and was roughly put together within a month, will allow inmates free calls to a suicide crises team.
The hotline uses the regular inmate phone system but the calls are free. The calls are routed to The Harris Center which already handles the jail’s clinical mental health needs. The center is responsible for running a local suicide hotline and contracts with other regions to provide that service to a 36-county area.
Opponents to the service say the hotline will be abused by bored inmates using the free number just to call and chat. But ultimately officials decided the good the hotline will provide would outweigh the abuse by a select few inmates.
The Harris County jail in downtown Houston, Texas is an overcrowded facilty with 9,000 inmates. Every day anywhere from 350 to 400 calls are made by inmates which are tracked by 40 staffers.
Doug Smith of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition stated, “I’ve never heard of such a thing – that’s wonder and I love the idea of a hotline.”
The program started October 1, 2018, and will last for 60 days after which it will be reevaluated. The jail has installed telephone headsets which tie directly to the hotline center. Inmates in crises can dial the number listed on posters displayed within the facility and immediately be connected to the crises hotline.
For anyone, whether an inmate or not, in crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Update: TexasParoleNow contacted The Harris Center and Harris County Sherriff’s Office to obtain the phone number and the spokesperson declined to provide the number to us stating “the number is for inmates only”. In addition, they were skeptical about talking to us about the program which makes us wonder if it a legitimate program or just something thrown together because of a lawsuit.