TCSO offering mental illness support for inmates' families

The jail is not a proper treatment facility for those with mental illness.

In fact, it can make matters worse.

Yet, on any given day a third of the Travis County Jail population suffers from some type of diagnosis.

In this week’s Crime Watch, FOX 7 Austin' s Noelle Newton shows how Sheriff Sally Hernandez is partnering with advocates to help families recognize symptoms before illness becomes a crime.

"I had no earthly idea what was going on in my son's mind,” said Margarita Negron.

The confusion of a mental illness diagnosis and the anguish of a child being incarcerated.

Margarita Negron has experienced both. "It was like hitting a wall and you don't know where that wall came from. What is behind it,” she said.

She is not alone.

33 percent of the 25-hundred inmates at the Travis County Jail suffer from mental illness.

"Often times it's things like trespassing--someone's in the midst of a psychotic episode, or in a situation where they're oblivious, delusional and they're walking into some place they think is their home,” said NAMI Executive Director Karen Ranus. "It saddens me greatly because jail settings are no place for anyone to be dealing with health issues."

National Alliance On Mental Illness, local affiliate Executive Director Karen Ranus wants to reduce that number and so does Sheriff Sally Hernandez. "We've got top notch people, but it's not the right place for treatment. It's not the right place for recovery,” said Hernandez.

The two women have teamed up to help family members of those incarcerated learn how to recognize the signs of a crisis before it leads to crime.

NAMI representatives who have been there, like Negron, are hosting informational workshops at the training academy on the jail property in Del Valle.

"Resources that help them realize when their loved one is in crisis, what the warning signs are, where they can go, what they can do,” said Hernandez.

"It is that health issue that we still whisper about,” said Ranus.

But you don't have to. "You're not alone. We're here,” said Ranus.

The next workshop will be held on April 8th.

You can sign up and learn more information about the program by going to