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Dallas Program Helping Mentally Ill Inmates, Saving Taxpayer Dollars

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Andrea Lucia
Andrea joined CBS 11 and TXA 21 in September 2010, one day befo...
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Enter the Dallas County jail and you will find yourself in the second largest mental hospital in the state of Texas. The district attorney’s office estimates the jail houses 1600 mentally ill inmates, each costing more than $100 a day. Dallas County taxpayers foot that multi-million dollar bill every year.

In the courthouse next door though, there’s an effort to keep those costs down.

Each week, a dozen or so suspects who have been found incompetent to stand trial appear for what’s called “outpatient competency restoration court.” One by one, they stand before a judge, prosecutor, and a public defender to make sure they’re taking their prescribed medications, living in a stable environment, and staying out of trouble.

“It saves the taxpayers a huge amount of money,” said Judge Doug Skemp, who oversees the court.

Those who comply with the rules get to stay out of jail.

“You don’t have all these people just sitting there taking up space ’cause they can get treated in the community,” said Lynn Pride Richardson, Dallas County’s chief public defender.

Advocates for the program say it also cuts down on homelessness and petty crimes, teaching repeat offenders how to survive outside the system.

“We show them how to live in the world, because that’s where they’re going to live,” said Dominique Collins.

For those who work here, the reward is seeing people regain a grasp on life.

“For me, it’s the best part of the job,” says Judge Skemp.

He remembers a former homeless man who appeared one day to show how far he’d come.

“He came in that morning on his own and just approached the bench with paperwork in his hand and showed it to me.  And it was his acceptance letter to El Centro, and that made me feel good.”

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