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Dallas County sues Texas over wait times for mentally ill inmates

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Christopher Connelly

Some mentally ill inmates spend months or years in county jail waiting for space at county hospitals.

Dallas County is suing Texas over the backlog of mentally ill inmates at county jails in need of treatment, according to a lawyer representing the county.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Travis County, argues Texas must accept legally incompetent inmates at state hospitals in a timely manner — something the county says it has not done.

"Dallas County taxpayers are footing the bill because the state agency won't comply with the law and state constitution," attorney Chad Dunn wrote in an email to KERA News. "This lawsuit seeks to order state officials to comply with the law."

Mentally ill inmates deemed incompetent to stand trial must have competency restored before any trial can take place. That means they sit in county jails for months or even years waiting for state hospital space.

The suit comes about two months after Dallas commissioners sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Health and Human Services Commission requesting more beds for the hundreds of inmates awaiting competency restoration.

Commissioners also made recommendations in a letter to the Dallas County state legislative delegation on how to improve wait times. In October 2022, 378 inmates in Dallas County were waiting to be transferred to state hospitals for competency restoration — 6% of the jail population.

"We can agree that the wait times being forced upon these individuals - as they await their day in court- is anything but speedy," the letter reads. "As such, we must act to properly and timely dispense justice."

KERA's Bret Jaspers contributed to this report.

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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Toluwani Osibamowo is a general assignments reporter for KERA. She previously worked as a news intern for Texas Tech Public Media and copy editor for Texas Tech University’s student newspaper, The Daily Toreador, before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is originally from Plano.