Sunday, July 08, 2012

Man deemed incompetent held 20 years without trial for attempted murder, may be released

Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman brings an update on the case of Brad Reinke, a man deemed incompetent to stand trial for attempted murder of his father 20 years ago ("Mentally ill defendant up for release despite fears he could return to violence," July 7). Now that he's spent longer incarcerated in jail and state hospitals than his sentence would be if he'd been convicted, the Court of Criminal Appeals has ordered him released, leaving prosecutors scrambling to keep him incarcerated.

Here's the Court of Criminal Appeals ruling on the case, which was fairly narrow, simple and unanimous. They said that the law is clear Reinke must be released when he's been held as long as the max sentence for the crime for which he was to be tried. Travis County prosecutors argued that should be read to include any possible sentence enhancements based on past offenses, but the court held that those cases had already been adjudicated, and that the only case for which Reinke was "to be tried" was the attempted murder beef.

This circumstance highlights the flaws of treating the criminal justice system as the main access point for indigent mental health care. It's the old problem: When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The law allows for civil commitment if Reinke is still dangerous - and some still think he is - but his recent behavior record at the hospital has been good and may disqualify that option.

For 20 years Travis prosecutors have kicked this case down the road until now they can't anymore. Finding other options for Reinke outside the forensic mental health system has never been a priority to the state because they already had a justification for locking him up without a trial. But that was never a permanent solution, which has now become clear. If he's dumped from the jail to the streets after 20 years with little support or supervision, that's the worst possible outcome from his long-term legal limbo.

And yet, it makes little sense for him to take up a valuable forensic bed at a state hospital that could go to defendants who could actually be helped. And the Travis County Jail, where he's been for the last two years, is not designed to house or treat mentally ill patients long-term. Even if Travis County prosecutors had prevailed at Texas' highest criminal court, the status quo for Mr. Reinke was untenable.

Michelle Mallee, a Travis prosecutor specializing in mental health issues, said "It's just a real horrible Catch-22." Indeed it is, and I don't envy any of the decision-makers in the process. But it's a Catch-22 exacerbated by the fact that our laws view mentally ill people who commit crimes primarily through a prosecutorial lens, from dangerous cases like Reinke who harmed his family to the murderer who committed acts of terrible self-mutilation, but also the homeless schizophrenic drunk cycling in and out of the county jail 50-60 times per year. The definition of insanity in Texas law has little to do with ant clinical definition, but instead amounts to a legal justification for punishment despite insanity if the actor understood what they did was a crime.

Texas needs more state mental hospital beds for long-term inpatient treatment, but not just to accommodate a broken system. Those beds will only be meaningful if they're part of an expansion of lower-intensity supportive housing options, with on-site supervision, care and case management at the most intensive settings and less restrictive, less-intensely supported facilities for those who prove able to operate in that environment. Grits isn't suggesting Texas reconstruct the old apparatus of insane asylums, though in the near term I do think the Legislature should fund enough new inpatient beds to solve the short-term crisis. But Texas cities need long-term supportive housing (at various levels of restriction) and a more flexible controlling legal framework to manage this small but troublesome and extraordinarily expensive group of long-term mentally ill people. After all, even if a judge agrees to civil commitment, the law requires Reinke be placed in the least restrictive environment, so there's no guarantee he'll be locked up, certainly not forever. Without a more flexible array of placement options, calling it a "Catch-22" understates the conundrum.

There's a limit to the effectiveness of punishing the mentally ill without a trial, verdict or sentence, and in Brad Reinke's case the state just reached it.


sunray's wench said...

"Travis County prosecutors argued that should be read to include any possible sentence enhancements based on past offenses, but the court held that those cases had already been adjudicated"

I agree with the Courts on this, but I have to say that if that is how we should look at sentencing, then why are so many "enhancements" permitted elsewhere? It is effectively punishing an individual more than once for a crime when the orginal sentence has already discharged.

editor said...

It is possible to do an outpatient commitment. It is utilized very rarely. But this could be a way to compel treatment. BUT, the law states that the Local Mental Health Authority must have the resources to provide that treatment. Although it is severely underfunded, there are some resources there in Travis County that are lacking in most of the rest of the state.

Anonymous said...

They should build a big apartment complex, perhaps a medium size one to keep people like this where there are counselors around.

Anne Roberts said...

I agree with Anon 12:43. However, if there are counselors around, it would feel like the same old thing that he was used to. It's like fake freedom.