Howard County Judge Worried by Mental Health Cuts

By Anayeli Ruiz
NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING - State budget cuts are hitting everyone including state hospitals. They're looking at losing $32 million, forcing them to cut more than 100 beds statewide. NewsWest9 spoke to a local judge who is in charge of admitting those patients to get his take on how it will affect them.

Howard County Judge Mark Barr works with a program at the state hospital in Big Spring that helps get patients through the doors.

"They are admitted by the doctors and then it's my job to say, do you need to keep them or do they need to be let go," Judge Barr said.

Judge Barr gets to decide if these patients can enter the 90 day program at the state hospital.

"This is not voluntary. This is something that normally the police have picked them up. The local MHMR has classified them as mental risk and they are brought to their local state hospital that has beds," Barr said.

Judge Barr says he deals with civil and criminal cases from all over the Permian Basin. But even before any cuts are made he says they are having to deal with a waiting list for some people and here locally he has one person waiting.

"He stays there until there is a forensic bed open and when I say forensic that's one that holds criminal people. He's 300 on the list to get in so we are gonna have to house him in our jail until his name comes up," said Barr.

He says if the state cuts back on these beds they'll be forced to send the patients to jail.

"Then they're out on the street then visiting 7-11, restaurants stuff like that. They'll be in there screaming making a nuisance out of themselves then they call the police. That's criminal trespass they wind up in our jail that's a misdemeanor we can hold them forever on that," said Barr.

Until they are in a stable environment they will end up back on the streets again. That's why he thinks the cuts will not save money and there will just be more costs for the taxpayer.

"It may relieve the state from some of the pressure, but in all actuality, it will wind up in the jail budget or law enforcement budget," said Barr.

In the end he and most law enforcement agencies think this is one thing legislators shouldn't cut.

"Just because the state legislator wants to make some cuts that doesn't mean we have less mental health patients," said Barr.