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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
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.

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
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.


Testimony on Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice

Coming soon!

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