Smith County leaders come together to address inmate mental illness

SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – Smith County leaders are calling it our biggest health crisis, and it’s not COVID-19.

Mental illness. Two words that impact our friendly families and our community.

1 in 5 Americans suffers from mental health issues, and many of these people end up in our prisons. On Friday, Smith County leaders came together to get these inmates the help they need.

“We’re in the situation if we don’t do something that we’re going to have more than we can handle in a few years,” said Sandra Hamilton, president of NAMI Tyler.

After receiving a grant to help those behind bars receive treatment and prevent them from committing future crimes, Smith County leaders are ready to get to work.

“We have the highest suicide rate here in East Texas, in Smith County, than any other county in the state of Texas, now that’s not good,” Hamilton said.

The grant money, from the Texas Judiciary Commission, was awarded to only five counties in the state.

Smith County leaders like Judge Austin Reeves, Tyler Police Chief Jimmy Toler and Tyler Mayor Don Warren are among the group. This, along with other agencies, was tasked with finding a solution.

“It’s always been a problem, about one in ten inmates in Smith County Jail has some form of mental illness, the numbers are probably higher than what we know,” Sheriff Larry Smith said.

Experts say the number one thing we can do to help people with mental health issues in East Texas is to break the stigma behind them.

“We cannot continue not to provide services to this population that they are part of our community. if we raise them, we raise our community,” said Jeanette Caulhon, director of the East Texas Cares Resource Center.

Smith County health organizations plan to unite so their patients can receive the best care possible.

“There’s a lot of good people in this room, there’s a lot of good community that really really cares on the days when we’re all trying to do it on our own, we have to come together and work together to make that happen. “said Sam Smith, CEO of the Hands Up network.

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