If it were his heart or a hip that malfunctioned, he would undoubtedly be in treatment. But since it’s his brain that has the problem, he sits in jail month after month.Earlier, a plea bargain was struck that would have released Skinner on probation - the victim in the domestic violence that sent him there incident had no desire to press charges. But after the court declared him incompetent, he couldn't even enter a guilty plea until after he'd been restored to competency, and that part of the process has stalled because of the shortage of state hospital beds.
He should have been released a long time ago. But now he’s caught in the abyss between our criminal justice and mental health systems, neither being punished nor treated. Just jailed.
The judge apologized to Skinner, but with that apology and a dollar he perhaps could get a soda at the commissary, but not much else. IMO, after such a long time the judge should have flat-out ordered the state hospital to take this fellow, as judges in other jurisdictions have begun to do.
The Legislature this year gave with one hand on competency restoration while taking away with the other. They passed a statute for misdemeanor defendants requiring their release if they don't get timely competency restoration, but for those charged with a felony, as in this case, there's no such safety valve. Meanwhile, they actually cut funding for state hospitals and mental health treatment, heightening scarcity and increasing time on waiting lists for competency restoration treatments.
This situation has lingered as long as your correspondent has been paying attention to county jail issues, and it's an area where underinvestment by the state heaps big problems and costs onto counties. To make matters worse, the only legislator who last session made the issue a real priority - Rep. Will Hartnett - is retiring from the Lege and will not return. Texas desperately needs somebody to take leadership on this question, but a betting man would likely wager the malaise and inaction will continue indefinitely, particularly with large budget shortfalls projected again in 2013. The situation is difficult for local officials but impossibly frustrating and cruel for the defendants themselves.
Indeed, in some ways the system seems more incompetent than the defendants. We understand that mental illness caused Skinner's incompetence, but what explains the incompetence of legislators, the governor, and the Department of State Health Services (which operates state mental hospitals) to cease this recurring nightmare? At least Mr. Skinner has a good excuse.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- Growth in forensic commitments exacerbates shortage of state mental hospital beds
- Judge orders state hospital to take more competency restoration patients
- Competency restoration process sounds crazy to columnist
- Few bills proposed at Lege to remedy statewide crisis in competency restoration
- Harris County pleads case for mental health, probation/diversion funds in state budget
- Jail deaths implicate state oversight, competency restoration funding
- Mental health cuts by state would shift costs to local jails, emergency rooms
- 'Harris County jail not the place to treat mental illness'
- The making of an unfunded mandate: Cuts to mental health would dump costs on county jails
- Cuts to state mental hospitals would be massive unfunded mandate for county jails
- Mentally ill languish in Bexar jail awaiting assessment, competency restoration
- Cuts to state mental health treatment would shift costs to local jails
- Cutting state psych hospital budgets could backfire
- Legislature's underspending on competency restoration beds creates havoc
- Priorities: Mentally incompetent inmates languishing in Texas county jails
- 75-year old mentally incompetent grandmother stranded in Lufkin jail most of 2006
- Legislature should prioritize mental health funding that relieves local jails
- Chincy state hospital funding leaves mentally incompetent defendants stranded
- Unfunded mandate: Counties struggle to pay for mentally incompetent defendants' care
- More counties grumbling at backlog of incompetent defendants in county jails