Monday, December 11, 2006

Grayson County applies to create mental heath court

Grayson County in northeast Texas has applied for grant funding to create a mental health court to treat the large percentage of jail inmates in the county suffering from serious mental illness. Reported the Sherman Herald Democrat ("Commissioners consider grant application for mental health court," 12-11):
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.

“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.
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.

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."


Mike Howard said...

Along the lines of adequate representation, Dallas (and now Austin) has a mental health public defender department. Here in Dallas it's only one attorney and two caseworkers. It could be much larger, of course.

John D. McLauchlan said...

I totally agree with your post, PL1.

Anonymous said...

In Travis County, there is a Jail Diversion Committee that is working on various issues involving mentally ill defendants. So far they have been working on some funding/grants to explore the financial burden on the jails/courts from mentally ill defendants, Project Recovery for the repeat PI offenders, Mental Health dockets, outpatient competency restoration vs. other means to expedite restoration in jail, and more. Encouraging stuff.

Anonymous said...

800 pounder,

Hey Brother you want to get the ball rolling? E-mail me at , or contact our main office at and we'll send you some material to give out at the next school board meeting. There are many links to information that proves the misinformation and these new policies of drug testing our kids is a failure and does more harm than good!

If you take away their fear, hype and lies they HAVE NOTHING TO STAND ON! How dare you try and bring truth, logic and common sense in to their PROPAGANDA PARADE, where did you think you were? This wasn't a event of higher learning, this was but another session in conditioning our young into subjugation through controlled information and LIES! At what may very well be the cost of our children’s lives! What was that old directive from one before us, “ God forgive them for they know NOT what they do “! Once you educate them with the truth, YOU TAKE AWAY THEIR “ EXCUSE “ FOR THEIR FEAR BASED AGENDAS!!!!

Anonymous said...

You dont need a separate court, you just need lawyers and police officers with a little more compassion and better training and awareness of mental health issues. You also need a system that doesnt allow uncorroberated evidence: here if someone pleads guilty to a crime, there still has to be a body of evidence to support the plea, you cant convict someone just on what they say they did.

As for drugs being blamed on mental heath problems, its increasingly accepted here that the mental health problems were there BEFORE the drug use started, many addicts self-medicate with illegal drugs because of the fear of stigma surrounding mental illness or just because they dont know they have it.

Anonymous said...

The two drug courts now in Grayson County are saving taxpayers a lot of money AND are saving peoples' lives. A mental drug court is a necessary addition because the majority of drug abusers suffer from other behavioral disorders (usually depression) which is both an effect of drug abuse and a cause of further drug abuse (drug abuse often alleviates depression short-term while exacerbating it long term. Treating the depression makes treating the drug abuse more effective.
Isn't it better to light a candle than to blame the dark?