Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death in jail. Since becoming sheriff, the suicide rate in the Dallas County jail, the seventh largest jail in the U.S., has been reduced by 92 percent.
Valdez spoke at the monthly meeting of Stonewall Democrats on Tuesday, Aug. 16, fresh off her nationally televised appearance at the Democratic National Convention. Her topic was mental health programs in the Dallas County jail.
Valdez’s goal is to reduce the jail population and serving those with mental illness is the area she’d like to reduce the most.
“The mentally ill do not belong in jail,” Valdez said.
The current jail population is 5,300 people. When she took office in 2004, about 350 people per day were processed into custody. Today the number is about 250. Of those, about 67 per day are referred to the psychiatric unit. More than half of those are homeless. About 1,100 of the the jail’s inmates are on some sort of psychotropic medication.
“The majority can be in programs other than jail,” Valdez said. “We need to get them out of the cycle of incarceration.”
She said people go to jail to learn to become better criminals.
Valdez said one reason so many with psychological problems are placed in jail rather than other programs is a lack of space elsewhere. Parkland’s psyche unit was full, Valdez said, and another facility was closing. When there are no alternatives, she said, people end up in jail where they don’t belong.
She said the jail’s programs for those with psychiatric problems have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice.