My Plan To Reform The Criminalization Of Persons Suffering From Mental Illness

“In any given year, approximately one out of every four adults in our country struggles with a mental illness, yet people with these illnesses are a hidden minority who suffer from pervasive discrimination.” – Rosalynn Carter

The Travis County Jail is the largest provider of mental health services in the county and has quickly become a place to house the mentally ill. Cuts to mental health services from our state legislature and the refusal to expand Medicaid in Texas creates a system where we criminalize persons suffering from mental illness.

As a Travis County District Judge there are two opportunities to reform the criminalization of mental illness. First, during legal proceedings by utilizing mental health bonds and emphasizing rehabilitative programs at sentencing.

Second, as a community leader I will work to educate people and support diversion programs with an aim at ending the cycle of incarceration.

For the majority of poor, mentally ill, and  people of color in Austin there is no justice. As your district judge, I will work everyday to ensure that our criminal justice system treats everyone equally.

I believe you shouldn’t have to be wealthy or in jail to receive mental health care. As judge, I will work tirelessly with community leaders and mental health advocates to ensure those who need our help receive it.

1. Travis County Pre-Arrest Diversion Strategy

We must do more to keep the estimated 6,000 mentally ill a year from entering jail. I support the aggressive pre-arrest diversion of non-violent mentally ill persons by expanding Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC) programs and fully funding the strategies currently being implemented.

Among the most important of these are the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), the Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) and Mental Health Officers from the Austin Police Department. MCOT consists of licensed clinicians and nurses who provide mental health evaluations to individuals by working closely with the CIT. The CIT consists of Austin Police Officers and Travis County Sheriff’s Deputies who are specially trained to work with mentally ill individuals.

Recently, ATCIC recommended the expansion of MCOT. MCOT is designed to provide psychiatric crisis intervention on site by assessing and stabilizing an individual experiencing an immediate behavioral health crisis. It also provides short-term follow up services to further stabilize an individual experiencing a behavioral health crisis and connect the individual to appropriate resources. MCOT expansion will add employees that will be available 24/7 at critical intercept points such as central booking at the Travis County Jail and the two highest psychiatric volume emergency departments. Additionally, it will pair MCOT staff 24/7 with two trained CIT officers.

These are just a few of the programs I support and believe need to be expanded to better help our mentally ill in crisis.

2. Pretrial Release

While it is the hope that many mentally ill individuals can be diverted from the criminal justice system, inevitably, some will have to navigate criminal charges. Pretrial release is often a problem for the mentally ill. While individuals have the opportunity to be released on “personal bond” or “on their own recognizance” through Travis County Pretrial Services, individuals suffering from mental illness are often denied this opportunity. These individuals often have to languish in jail until they can be directed to the appropriate support court or until the disposition of their cases.

I support adding additional Mental Health Pretrial Officers to increase the number of Mental Health Bonds being issued. These bonds allow an individual to be released from jail on the condition that they receive treatment through Austin Travis County MHMR.

3. Post Arrest Diversion

I further support mental health special reduction dockets for misdemeanor and felony defendants identified with mental health issues. These courts streamline the court process by hearing these cases more quickly. They also help monitor and connect those individuals with appropriate services.

I support the expansion of the Outpatient Competence Restoration Program which helps restore competence of indivudals in the community rather than in jail. I further support the Mental Health Support court which reviews the progress of individuals with mental illness on felony probation.

4. Re-entry

The goal of any mental health strategy should be the successful treatment and re-entry of those suffering from mental illness into our society. This can be accomplished by the providing them with proper treatment and support through inpatient and outpatient programs within the community.

5. Affordable Housing

The most pressing issue when it comes to successful re-entry into society is access to affordable and stable housing. We must do more to support affordable housing programs for those suffering from mental illness.

Pol. adv. paid for by the Brad Urrutia Campaign, P.O. Box 252, Manchaca, Texas, 78652, Betty Blackwell, Treasurer, in compliance with the voluntary limits of the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act.