Thursday, January 24, 2008

Texas Chief Justice Task Force Sets Goals for 2008

Here's another item that appeared in the January 2008 newsletter of the Consensus Project:

"The Texas Chief Justice Task Force, led by the Honorable Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has set forth a series of goals for 2008 that will build on successes in the past year and improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses involved with the criminal justice system.

In 2007, the task force helped to bring about legislation that facilitated information-sharing among criminal justice and mental health agencies. The task force designed a system to identify in the Department of Public Safety records individuals who are also listed in the state mental health service database (Department of State Health Services; DSHS). Judge Keller and key task force members presented the system to the 80th Texas Legislature, and these recommendations and related funding were adopted in May 2007 (SB 839 by Senator Duncan, a member of the task force). The new information-sharing mechanism, which permits authorized jail personnel to gather additional information on individuals flagged as having prior contact with the public mental health system, is expected to be operational by September 2008.

Judge Keller’s task force now plans to recommend changes to the state’s reporting and jail intake processes. The goal is to identify as quickly as possible people arrested who have a mental health diagnosis or history of treatment and to transmit this information in a uniform manner to court officials while respecting individuals' privacy rights. These efforts will be coordinated with the new $82 million program for jail diversion run by the Department of State Health Services, another product of last year’s legislative session. This program will fund mobile response teams and a hotline that will provide mental health interventions for people identified at intake as potentially having mental illnesses.

Over the next year, the task force hopes to accomplish the following: recommend changes to the statewide jail intake form to add a new flagging mechanism to indicate potential mental illness; examine the legal changes necessary for court magistrates within 24 hours of arrest to order the completion of a uniform mental health report form; design and pilot this form; and recommend that legislation be enacted that makes it a requirement in Texas. The task force hopes that enhancing procedures to identify early at jail intake people who might need mental health treatment will ensure that jail personnel make use of the new diversion program and are able to determine which individuals need mental health interventions as early as possible.

Together, all of these advances will help to improve the process through which people with mental illnesses entering the criminal justice system are identified and connected to treatment services in Texas. The task force’s work has been made possible through the Chief Justices’ Criminal Justice/Mental Health Leadership Initiative, which is coordinated by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and GAINS Center and supported by the JEHT Foundation and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation."

No comments: