Post Episode 26: Investigative journalists dig into wait times for inmates to get mental health treatment

(InvestigateTV) – In this month’s episode of POST, stories about investigating prison and jail practices are highlighted.

An entire series from Carnegie-Knight News21 examines what happens when kids are incarcerated, the Marshall Project and the AP look at how to accurately track COVID-19 cases in prisons, and KXAN (Austin, Texas) examines the wait times for inmates to get mental health treatment.

KXAN’s Director of Investigations & Innovation and IRE Board Member Josh Hinkle and Senior Investigative Producer and Digital Reporter David Barer joined the show to discuss their team’s series, Locked in Limbo.

They told POST the series started with a request to a sheriff’s office to see a roster of inmates, and they found inmates who had been in jail for 15-20 years. When they dug in to find out why, the team found out inmates were actually in a state hospital.

That finding triggered more questions – and ultimately a look at a waitlist for inmates to get mental health treatment.

“I think a big part of it was figuring out what the state tracked and what it didn’t. When it came to the wait list for people waiting for a state hospital, that is something the state did track county-by-county, and also the wait times. So we could tell how long people were on this wait list,” Hinkle said.

Then things got a little more complicated when they started going to the more than 200 counties in Texas and trying to match up the redacted waitlist with actual cases. They used state data dashboards and many court documents for different cases to explain the issues with the waitlists and competency restoration.

“It was challenging to find specific cases for this. David had to kind of go backward with the data and us look at the counties and their list of people that were deemed incompetent to stand trial, which we were able to get,” Hinkle said.

The team also worked with advocates to find people affected by the issue – and found those effected aren’t just those accused of crimes, but those people who are victims of crimes.

“Victims and their families can be denied justice to if a person is charged with a crime and then they are found incompetent and they’re not restored,” Barer said.

Links to Stories Discussed in Episode 26:

Kids Imprisoned, News21

COVID-19 in Prisons, The Marshall Project

Locked in Limbo, KXAN

Post is a media review program from InvestigateTV, Gray Television’s streaming channel dedicated to in-depth and watchdog reporting. Post is presented in partnership with the journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors. The monthly program is taped at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, a partner of InvestigateTV.

Episode written and produced by: Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV

Production by: Director Travis McMillen, RJI, production assistant Jeb Goldman, RJI, and production assistant Cory Johnson, InvestigateTV

Video Editing by: Owen Hornstein and Jamie Grey, InvestigateTV

Jamie Grey

Jamie Grey

Jamie is InvestigateTV's managing editor. She coordinates content and produces stories with a particular passion for digging into government programs and waste, health care policy and education.