In the supporting material for the federal grant, [Adult probation director Dennis] Cowhig stated that an assessment of the Grayson County Jail found that more than 100 of the 452 inmates housed at the county jail at the time of the assessment had some mental health issues.Personally I like this approach because it gives the system a chance to account for mitigating factors regarding crimes committed by the mentally ill. Punishment only works as deterrence for those who think rationally about cause and effect. That's just not always the case for someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, so punishment without focusing on the organic illness won't usually keep the unwanted behavior from recurring.
“This target population (who are likely to re-offend) has historically been subjected to the same criminal justice sanctions as other offenders, but a growing number of stakeholders, led by the County Judge, have begun to question the appropriateness of not taking into consideration the person’s mental health condition and/or co-occurring substance abuse disorder, without which the offense might not have been committed,” the application states.
The application says, “The target population of the Grayson County Mental Health Court is male or female, age 17 or older, who are in a pre-release/disposition or post-release/ disposition status. Only those who are Grayson County residents with charges of a misdemeanor or non-violent felony as defined by statute who meet priority population as set forth by the Texas Health and Safety Code will be eligible participants in the Mental Health Court.”
Those who will get priority for the program will be individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, and/or mental retardation. The Court, Cowhig said, plans to serve 40 people during the course of the grant.
Other counties have tried different approaches to dealt with the mentally ill, but everywhere in the state officials are struggling with how to handle this critical group. A special mental health court opened up this summer in Houston. Dallas now provides medications for mentally ill defendants for several days after they leave local custody to prevent disrupting their treatment. Travis County received grant funding recently to create a specialized public defender for mentally ill defendants. And Bexar County established a 24-hour outpatient crisis care center aimed at the same population.
I'm curious: What other local efforts are readers aware of for dealing with mentally ill defendants in Texas? How do you think courts should best handle indviduals with serious mental illness who commit crimes, particularly those charged with only non-violent offenses?
MORE: Wretched of the Earth approves of Grayson's mental health court but says it won't be enough. "Adequate representation (do the attorneys representing mentally ill defendants have training in mental illness, et cetera?) and a change of philosophy within the District Attorney's office are also key."