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Increase in mental health inmates prompts Bexar jail to expand services, care

SAN ANTONIO – Caring for inmates with mental health issues has become a priority for the Bexar County Jail.

"There is a trend, as we see funding (depleting) in medical services, mental health, beds in the community," said Bexar County Deputy Chief and Jail Administrator Raul Banasco. "It is impacting the jails across America,"

Banasco estimates 3,700 inmates are currently being held at the Bexar County Jail. He said 20 percent to 25 percent of them have mental health challenges.

Several safety measures have been put in place and they start the minute an inmate is arrested and booked.

"First of all identify them. We screen them, if they show any kind of alert to any kind of mental health crisis, or need, we immediately contact medical, said Banasco. "Because medical is actually located in booking."

Mental health inmates are closely watched by correction officers and medical staff 24 hours a day.

Some inmates are placed into a padded room for their own protection, while others are given special mattresses to sleep on, and changes have been made to their cells.

"There's no way anyone can try to hurt themselves. They are very soft in material. We also redesigned our vent system. There used to be holes where inmates would loop and try to hang themselves," said Banasco.

Educating the jail staff is also a top priority.

"Every detention officer that goes through the academy, as well as the existing staff, as well as the patrol staff go through CIT training, which is Crisis Intervention Training," Banasco said. "That's been very resourceful across America, especially here in Bexar County."

Bexar County is considered to be ahead of the curve when it comes to mental health challenges in their jail.

Banasco said, until there are more services available for those suffering from mental health issues, they'll continue to provide the best services they can.

For a closer look at how officials handle people suffering from mental health issues after they are arrested click on this chart.