Sandra Bland Act: Telemedicine is Coming to Texas Jails
In July 2015, Sandra Bland was pulled over by a Texas state trooper for a traffic violation. What should have been a routine stop quickly escalated, and the exchange led to Bland’s arrest. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell—her death officially ruled a suicide.
Nearly two years following the incident, Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed into law the Sandra Bland Act. The Act represents a significant advancement in criminal justice reform in Texas, mandating, among other aspects, a change in corrections and police-related policy when dealing with those deemed afflicted by mental illness or addiction. Moreover, the law includes a provision regarding prisoner safety that requires county jails to allow prisoners around-the-clock access to a mental health professional—either on-site or through telehealth consultation.
There are significant challenges facing Texas county jails in adopting and scaling for this new requirement. Directly employing mental health professionals is costly; providing transportation for inmates to see a mental health professional is inefficient and potentially risky. Compounding the challenge is the significant shortage of psychiatric specialists across Texas.
Fortunately, Texas lawmakers have included $92 million in mental health services funding to support the new mental health initiative facing Texas correctional facilities. By using the available grant funds to purchase telePsychiatry equipment and services, jails can implement a remedy to meet Sandra Bland Act criteria in whole, all for a fraction of the cost that it would take to hire on-site mental health professionals or transport inmates off-site for initial consults.
For the correctional communities of Texas, telemedicine will almost certainly prove to be the best practice in complying with the Sandra Bland Act’s mental health requirements. With less than one year to build programs and operate in full compliance, the time to invest in telemedicine is now.
SOC telePsychiatrists are available on-demand, 24/7/365, offering a proven, trusted and reliable method of providing mental health services in both urgent and routine cases. For more information, see Sandra Bland Act.