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Texas Addresses Alternatives to Incarceration for Mentally Ill Offenders and Improves Outcomes

With an SJI Project grant in FY 2008 (SJI-08-N-072), the Texas Administrative Office of the Courts/Indigent Defense Commission examined how mentally-ill offenders entered the judicial system, and to what extent their cases were effectively adjudicated.

The report, titled Representing the Mentally III Offender: An Evaluation of Advocacy Alternatives, explored the use of alternative sanctions for offenders who were identified as having mental health issues. The two-year project showed that criminal offenders with mental impairments who were treated for their illness instead of being jailed were less likely to commit crimes again for up to 18 months. Since this project concluded, the Commission reports that Texas has aligned more resources with this strategy as it continues to prove effective in reducing recidivism. Furthermore, the Texas Discretionary Grant budget now includes more funding for mental health treatment courts and similar intervention-based programs than in prior years. Some of the accomplishments this project and its committed stakeholders were able to advance include:

  • By FY 2013, at least 12 counties will provide direct client services through specialized indigent defense programs with a mental health focus;
  • In 2009 Lubbock County established the state’s first Managed Assigned Counsel (MAC) program to represent people with mental illness; and,
  • Collin County received funding to start its own Managed Assigned Counsel program for FY 2013. In addition to Lubbock and Montgomery Counties, Texas now has three MAC programs in operation.

The project stresses the value of collaboration beyond traditional criminal justice system partners to include expert technical assistance and resources, mental health partners, academia, and individual and family mental health advocates, and support networks. In addition to this summary and its supplemental case study materials, the Commission maintains a robust website, which offers resources on best practices, planning, monitoring, annual reports, and technical assistance. Questions about the study, final report, and the continued work of the Commission can be directed to James Bethke at jim.bethke@txcourts.gov.