Tarrant County commissioners approved a list of policy priorities for the ongoing 88th legislative session in Austin, including a study to determine if a state mental hospital is needed for Tarrant County, during the Feb. 7 meeting.

A state mental health hospital would help lower the jail population by restoring competency for those awaiting trial, according to Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks, representing Precinct 1.

In Tarrant County, 323 individuals are in need of competency restoration, which involves court-ordered mental health services provided to persons considered unfit to stand trial, according the Texas Health and Human Services Commission website. As of the meeting, 180 individuals are on the state waitlist for mental health services from the state hospital, some of which have been waiting since 2020, according to Russell Schaffner, Tarrant County’s assistant county administrator.

Since Tarrant County does not have a state mental health hospital, county citizens fall into the Wichita Falls catchment area, according to Schaffner. Wichita Falls’ facility is one of three campuses under the North Texas State Hospital, the other two being in Vernon. The hospital serves 53 counties, including Tarrant, per its website.

According to Schaffner, $2.3 billion has been invested into rehabbing, reconstructing and adding capacity to state mental hospitals from the $32.7 billion state budget surplus. Wichita Falls will be rebuilt, but it will not receive additional capacity for patients.

Brooks stated the mental health study will be his top priority during the state’s legislative session. He also stated the need for more beds available for residents in the general public who are not involved with the criminal justice system.

“We need to strike a balance between allocating those beds, when we get them, between competency restoration and long-term mental health for persons in our general community who currently have no beds available to them,” Brooks said.