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Public Policy: Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice

Individuals with mental illness often find themselves involved in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. The Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health was recently established to study and address these issues. We can interrupt the cycle of system involvement by providing linkages to treatment, streamlining access to care, and emphasizing safe and humane conditions. Texas should prioritize mental health within justice reform.

 

Strengthen trauma-informed prevention, diversion, treatment, and re-entry programming

Individuals involved in juvenile justice and criminal justice experience higher rates of mental illness, substance use disorders, and trauma. Inappropriate detention placements for youth can increase the likelihood of involvement in the adult criminal justice system.

  • Trauma-informed prevention, diversion, treatment, and reentry programming
  • Mental health specialty courts
  • TDCJ’s Legislative Appropriation Request Exceptional Items 4 and 8
  • Appropriate resources for TCOOMMI and other specialized services

Update: House Bill 650 (White), an omnibus bill to improve quality of life for pregnant and new mother inmates, includes screening female inmates for adverse childhood experiences and offering mental health services to treat trauma or PTSD.

Expand Mental Health Grant Program for Justice-Involved Individuals

It is all too common for individuals with mental illness to repeatedly cycle in between criminal justice settings, hospitals, and communities.  In many cases, it is more effective to divert these individuals into treatment, services, and support.

Recently, Texas leadership established the Mental Health Grant Program for Justice-Involved Individuals, which in 2018-19 provided $27.5 million in matching funds for local collaborative efforts to address the mental health needs of individuals with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.  Texas should approve HHSC Exceptional Item 37 to maintain FY 2019-level funding for this program and bring effective projects to scale around the state.

Update: In the 86th legislative session, Texas increased its funding for Mental Health Grant Program for Justice-Involved Individuals by $12.5 million, a 10.7% increase in funding for mental health services grants, and a 4.6% increase in funding for mental health services within the juvenile justice system.

Expand peer services in the criminal justice system

The high risk of recidivism for justice-involved with mental illness reveals the difficulties associated with transitioning from a correctional facility back into the community. Trained, certified peer service providers are a cost-effective, evidence-based strategy for addressing recidivism and supporting recovery.  Texas should proactively integrate peer services into the criminal justice system. Policy options include:

  • Expanding the Mental Health Peer Support Reentry Program
  • Funding TDCJ /TCOOMMI to provide peer services,
  • Easing hiring policies that inhibit ex-offenders from working in criminal justice settings

Update: In the 86th legislative session, House Bill 1342 (Leach) prevents authorities from revoking or denial of an occupational license if an individual’s criminal offense committed does not relate to the duties and responsibilities of the licensed job. House Bill 3227 (Howard) required Texas state prisons to increase availability of peer support services and allow juvenile-involved individuals to serve in this peer workforce. Texas has maintained its funding for the Mental Health Peer Support Re-entry Program and has appropriated half a million each year for the Reentry Services Pilot Program.

Improve conditions and access to care in criminal justice facilities

For individuals with mental illness, placements in criminal justice facilities can be incredibly traumatizing and dangerous. Numerous problems have been identified around access to appropriate treatment, placement in solitary confinement, suicide attempts, and other issues.

  • Stronger health and safety standards in criminal justice facilities.
  • Reduce solitary confinement of individuals with mental illness by approving TDCJ Exceptional Item 3.
  • Resources available for counties to comply with the Sandra Bland Act county jail telemental health requirement.
Exempt from capital punishment individuals who had severe mental illness during the offense

Over the course of our state’s history, there are examples of individuals with several mental illness ending up on death row.  Ordering capital punishment in these unique and infrequent cases disregards the fact that severe mental illness can significantly impair one’s ability to make rational decisions, understand the consequences of one’s actions, and control one’s impulses. It also frequently extends an already emotionally difficult ordeal for family members, involves years of litigation, and occurs at high financial cost to taxpayers. Texas should exempt from capital punishment individuals who had severe mental illness at the time of offense.

Update: In the 86th legislative session, Texas did not pass House Bill 1936 (Rose), a capital punishment exemption bill.

 

Key Bills/New Laws passed during the 86th Legislative Session on Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice

HB 601 (Price) – Relating to criminal or juvenile procedures and reporting requirements regarding persons who are or may be persons with a mental illness or an intellectual disability.

What does the bill do?

  • Clarifies and modifies requirements around identifying and diverting defendants in county jail systems believed to have a mental illness or an intellectual and developmental disability (IDD).
  • Requires county judicial systems, when transferring individuals and their records to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to include any information regarding the mental health of the individual.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • Earlier identification of mental health conditions or IDD in the legal process.
  • Relaying of mental health record and history to Texas Department of Criminal Justice can facilitate the treatment, services and placement they receive.
  • Diversion to treatment facilities instead of imprisonment or jail can help provide support and resources needed for recovery and recidivism.
HB 1342 (Leach) – Relating to a person’s eligibility for an occupational license; providing an administrative penalty.

What does the bill do?

  • Provides a more comprehensive review of the revocation of an occupation license from those who have been convicted in a crime not related to their occupation.
  • Prevents authorities from revoking or denial of an occupational license if the criminal offense committed does not relate to the duties and responsibilities of the licensed job.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • Greater workforce of mental health professionals who may have lost licensure to crime conviction.
  • Re-entry into workforce for an individual who may have been convicted of a crime during an episode related to their mental health condition.
HB 650 (White) – Relating to inmates of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

What does the bill do?

  • Requires correctional officers and anyone in the department who has contact with pregnant inmates to receive training on appropriate medical and mental health care as well as the impact of restraints, seclusion, and invasive searches on pregnant inmates.
  • Requires standardized visitation policy allowing female inmates to see their minor children no less than twice per week.
  • Requires pregnant inmates be provided prenatal education on appropriate care and hygiene, parenting skills, effect of substance use during pregnancy, and child medical/mental health issues.
  • Limits use of restraints and invasive searches on pregnant women.
  • Allows new mothers to stay with infant for first 72 hours.
  • Requires department provide necessary supplements and nutritional food to pregnant inmates.
  • Prohibits segregation of pregnant or recently postpartum mothers.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • Decreases the likelihood of recidivism by addressing and improving treatment in prisons.
  • Reduces postpartum mental health disorders and other mental health conditions with increased visit times and bonding time with their children and newborns.
SB 362 (Huffman) – Relating to court-ordered mental health services

What does the bill do?

  • Streamlines, clarifies, and reorganizes civil mental health commitment law.
  • Modifies the standards used to determine if a judge can order temporary outpatient mental health services in a manner that may make it easier to qualify.
  • Requires the Court of Criminal Appeals to provide, at least once per year, judicial training related to court-ordered outpatient mental health services.
  • Directs the Supreme to adopt rules related to streamlining court processes connected to emergency detention.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • Aims to streamline transition of persons with mental illness away from the criminal justice system into proper mental health treatment
SB 562 (Zaffirini) – Relating to criminal or juvenile procedures regarding persons who are or may be persons with a mental illness or intellectual disability and the operation and effects of successful completion of a mental health court program.

What does the bill do?

  • Streamlines the process of competency restoration so that individuals with mental illness who have been found incompetent to stand trial are less likely to have to wait in jail for long periods of time before receiving services.
  • For people who have been found incompetent to stand trial, requires determination of dangerousness upfront before send a person to a maximum security unit.
  • Helps reduce backlog for waiting in jail for services.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • Improves and expands access to care for individuals with mental illness who end up in the criminal justice system.
HB 3227 (Howard) – Relating to the availability of and access to certain programs and services for persons in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

What does the bill do?

  • Requires the state prison system to adopt a policy to increase the availability of peer support services. The policy must allow those who have been justice-involved to serve in the peer workforce.
  • Implementation of policy that will require the state prison system to increase access to various programs such as substance use treatment, pre-release, and rehabilitation for female inmates.

What does this mean for mental health?

  • An emphasis on accessibility of peer support services for those are in prison and vital services for women in prison can help increase rehabilitative process and decrease recidivism rates.
HB 812 (White) – Relating to the amount of the health care services fee paid by certain inmates.

What does the bill do?

  • Reduces the cost of medical visits for those in the state prison system to $13.55 per visit

What does this mean for mental health?

  • A decrease in the cost of healthcare visits helps to eliminate a barrier to care for those imprisoned by making it more affordable to be seen by a health care provider.

 

Testimony on Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice

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