Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Leaders of mental health task force don't inspire confidence

Color me unimpressed with the makeup of the new "task force" on Texas prisoners' mental health ("Texas selected for study of mental health illnesses in state prisons," Feb. 19). Certainly Texas faces a mental health crisis in our corrections system (30% of Texas prison inmates are former clients of the state mental health system), but the folks put in charge of the effort lend little reason for confidence that their suggestions will adequately address the problem.

The task force will be led by Court of Criminal Appeals Chief Justice Sharon Keller, who has never demonstrated the least concern about these topics and who repeatedly thumbed her nose at the US Supreme Court over the question of executing the mentally retarded.

Other task force members include Williamson County DA John Bradley, a demagogue who is leading the charge in Texas for new prison building and to oppose treatment alternatives to incarceration. In addition, the rep from the Governor's office, Mary Ann Wiley, in 2005 recommended vetoing Madden's legislation strengthening the probation system, which gives me little cause to believe she'll support needed reforms on this task force.

The rest of the group includes state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Lubbock County Sheriff David Gutierrez; Jim Bethke, director of the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense; Mike Maples, director of mental health/substance abuse programs at the Texas Department of State Health Services; and Dee Wilson, director of Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments.

For those who don't know these names, bottom line, the group's makeup basically spans the political spectrum from the moderate right to the far right, and only includes institutional players.

Where is the Advocacy Inc. represenative, the criminal defense lawyers' association, or for that matter any advocate for the mentally ill who doesn't work for state government? The predictable answer: Nowhere to be found. Like the Governor's Criminal Justice Advisory Council, this body's makeup virtually dictates ahead of time what recommendations they will or won't offer. They've excluded anybody who might aggressively advocate for
mentally ill offenders, and instead seek recommendations largely from the folks whose policies caused the problems in the first place.

On its face this is not a group organized around the idea that significant reforms are needed. Indeed, I'd expect them to produce recommendations that essentially justify the status quo rather than reform it significantly. We'll see if that's true, and I certainly hope they prove me wrong. They're going to get their chance.


Anonymous said...

Who in the world put the two worst offenders of rights of the mentally ill over something as important as the mental health of Texas Inmates?

Sharon Keller is a CCA Judge who should have not been re-elected and was by a very slim margin and John Bradley is DA from Williamson Co. who has the worst reputation of abuse of Inmates in the who State. Bradley keeps his nose buried up in Rick Perry and dictates what and how things should be done and Perry listens.

This is an out rage and should never have happened. There needs to be a psychiatrist on this board who can make a medical decision and not two lawyers who can not keep their noses out of things that don't concern them.

I am totally ashamed of who ever elected these two to a board to make a decision regarding health care for the mentally ill. If they were appointed, who appointed them? That person needs to go!! Both of these people, Kellery and Bradley are close to Gov. Perry and this is not something he should be proud of.

Anonymous said...

It is an embarrassment that in 2007, with mental illness treatment options that work available, all Texas can come up with is to lock up people with mental health problems to protect the "Public Safety". This committee should include public and mental health professionals!