Mental Health Court To Be Dedicated October 2
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information, please contact:
Laura Cohen, Project Director, Felony Mental Health Court
Traci Patterson, Director of Communications, Mental Health America of Greater Houston
MENTAL HEALTH COURT TO BE DEDICATED OCTOBER 2
HOUSTON, TX (October 2, 2012) – Harris County will hold a dedication ceremony for the Felony Mental Health Court (FMHC) on October 2 at noon on Tuesday in the Ceremonial Courtroom-20th Floor at the Criminal Justice Center (1201 Franklin, 77002). The dedication, sponsored by the Mental Health Court Foundation, highlights one of the County’s most recent strategies to address the number of defendants in the jail who have diagnoses of serious and persistent mental illnesses and co-occurring drug, alcohol or substance abuse problems. This dedication is a precursor to Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 7-13, and helps bring greater awareness about solutions and issues associated with mental illness.
“Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA) has advocated for a local mental health court for several years and we believe it is a much-needed addition to Harris County’s criminal justice system,” said Susan Fordice, President and CEO of MHA Houston. “A court that helps individuals obtain mental health treatment and oversees progress is invaluable for the quality of life for these defendants and for the community, which struggles to provide services for them.”
“The Harris County Jail has become the largest unofficial psychiatric center in the state,” said Maureen Hackett, President of the Mental Health Court Foundation. “Many people with mental illness who enter the criminal justice system do so because of their disease and incarceration is not the most effective means for reducing recidivism for these offenders, as jail does little to treat the mental illness.”
According to Hackett, “offenders with mental illness revolve in and out of jail. They are stabilized on psychiatric medicines while in the jail, but fail to obtain medication and other mental health treatment when released, so they commit another crime, and repeat the cycle. The Felony Mental Health Court can help address some of these issues and potentially save tax dollars.”
Hackett along with County Judge Ed Emmett; Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee, who chairs the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; State Senator John Whitmire; and District Judge Jan Krocker are all scheduled to speak at the dedication about the impact of the FMHC in Greater Houston and Harris County.
Harris County’s Felony Mental Health Court, presided by Judge Krocker, is funded by a $500,000 re-entry and safe communities grant to Harris County from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. According to Krocker, “a blue-ribbon committee of approximately 100 criminal justice and mental health leaders, along with advocates, educators and treatment providers, designed the court, so it should be one of the best in the country.”
In 2011, there were over 1,000 applicants for the re-entry grants, 119 were awarded and only three went to courts. Krocker suggests that the high-quality planning is one reason Harris County received the grant.
Mental health courts are therapeutic courts in which the judge meets frequently with probationers who have a mental illness to encourage them or order sanctions. The FMHC accepts defendants who have diagnoses of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder. Several participants also have intellectual disabilities.
Defendants enter the FMHC voluntarily after consulting with an attorney. The district attorney’s office and the judge must agree that the defendant is appropriate for the court. Mental health treatment for the defendant is the primary focus. The court monitors the progress of these defendants through the help of a staff that includes a project director, three-member clinical team, a part-time psychiatrist, and probation officers. The District Attorney’s Office and Public Defenders Office assign mental health lawyers to the court.
“The FMHC allows us an opportunity to identify and treat individuals whose primary causes of being within the criminal justice system are their mental health issues. We can identify resources that will assist them and help keep them from re-offending,” said Krocker.
The clinical component of the court was designed by members of the psychiatric faculty from Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas Medical School along with a private psychologist and the medical director of the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority. The court also partnered with the graduate school of social work at the University of Houston and the social work and criminal justice faculty at the University of Houston Downtown.
Since the court began in April, 43 defendants have been admitted. According to Krocker, “the first 40 defendants had extremely long criminal records with an average of five incarcerations since 2006. The total jail days for these participants during that period was 10,692. Figured at an average cost of $57.50 per day, the total incarceration cost for that period for these participants was $614,790.”
“So far, the progress of these individuals has been remarkable,” said Krocker. “We are helping them learn to effectively manage their mental illness, and recidivism for these offenders is going down.”
Krocker expects the court will have plenty of business. National figures indicate that 75 percent of all defendants who have mental illness also have a co-occurring substance abuse diagnosis; while the most recent data (2009) for the Harris County Jail showed that 24 percent of the inmates receive psychotropic medications. By year end, the court will add an additional 80 defendants to the program.
The first Mental Health Court in America was created in 1997 and there are about 250 nationally.