SAN ANTONIO – UPDATE: Sheriff Pamerleau was scheduled to testify on Tuesday. It has been rescheduled for February, according to the Sheriff's Office.
STORY: With a copy of the program Bexar County is using to address the issue of mental illness in the jail population in hand, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau is on her way to Washington, D.C.
She has been invited by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the topic of mental illness and the criminal justice system.
Pamerleau said Cornyn extended the invitation following his tour of the Bexar County Jail last year.
“It’s not just a local issue. It’s a state issue, and it’s a national issue,” Pamerleau said.
During his tour, Cornyn was briefed on the program that includes the use of a Critical Response Team. The team is tasked with handling mental health issues among the jail population.
Pamerleau said that the county’s success is due, in part, to a networking approach that includes mental health professionals and even a specialty court that deals only with mental health cases.
“I believe that it will raise the level of attention on mental illness in the criminal justice system,” Pamerleau said as she discussed the testimony she plans to share.
The sheriff said money also plays a role when dealing with mental health issues in jail.
“The cost per day for someone with mental illness in jail can reach as high as $350 a day,” Pamerleau said. “I’d rather spend that on treatment.”
The committee’s goal is to find ways to prevent jails from doubling as mental institutions.