Organizations urge state to examine intersection of mental health, criminal justice

Daily Light Report

A person must be competent to stand trial to protect the rights of people who do not understand the charges against them and cannot assist in their own defense.

Like other states across the U.S., Texas faces a growing number of people who are waiting in jail for inpatient services because they have been declared incompetent to stand trial, according to the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health (JCMH).

This increases costs and burdens on county jails and takes a significant toll on the health and well-being of those who are waiting in jail for these inpatient competency restoration services, JCMH said. According to JCMH:

• More than 1,900 people are currently waiting in Texas jails for competency restoration services.

• Over the past 20 years, Texas has seen a 38% increase in people found incompetent to stand trial.

• Nearly 70% of state hospital beds in Texas are used by the forensic population.

The Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health and Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) are asking judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs and jail staff, police and behavioral health providers to join this effort to change the way Texas serves people at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice.

“We all have a role to play to eliminate the wait. We applaud this collaborative effort to raise awareness about competency-restoration services and best practices,” JCMH Co-Chairs Hon. Jane Bland and Hon. Barbara Hervey said. “It engages courts, law enforcement, and mental health professionals in an effort to better use state resources for people with mental health disorders or intellectual and developmental disabilities who encounter our justice system.”

The JCMH and HHSC have created a toolkit with strategies to help eliminate the wait for inpatient competency restoration services in Texas. For more information go to https://tinyurl.com/bdde6f2r.