while county officials agree more changes are necessary to ensure mentally ill defendants don’t languish in jail, improvements such as specialized screening at the jail and cooperation between the Lubbock Special Needs Defender’s Office, defense attorneys and the probation office have streamlined identifying mentally ill defendants and getting them through the system.
The Special Needs Defender’s Office provides private appointed legal representation, as well as specialized one-on-one care outside the jail to help ensure defendants make their court dates and don’t end up back in jail.RELATED: From Simple Justice.
The office is a synthesis of a board, director, 21 attorneys on an appointment wheel and two social workers. The program is the first of its kind in Texas and works with defendants from arrest through disposition.
Since November 2009, the office has received 367 qualifying referrals out of 1,777 total referrals.
Of those 367, 208 were accepted, according to data from the defender’s office.
The office represents defendants who are charged with felonies or Class A or B misdemeanors, are indigent and have a qualifying mental health illness or condition like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.
County officials began looking into establishing a program to represent defendants with special needs when they realized the people spending the longest amount of time in jail were individuals who had mental health issues.