Monday, October 20, 2008

Candidates for Harris County District Attorney Address Issue of Mental Illness

On November 4, voters in Harris County will elect a new district attorney. In an article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle ("Race for DA puts justice system on trial," October 12, 2008), candidates C.O. Bradford and Pat Lykos expressed interest in reform, with a particular emphasis on addressing the needs of inmates with mental illness. Here are excerpts:

"Harris County voters looking for a district attorney candidate with a 'tough on crime' theme are out of luck this fall.

The situation is a startling departure from the law-and-order tone set for the last 30 years by Republican former district attorneys John B. Holmes Jr. and Chuck Rosenthal.

But Rosenthal resigned in disgrace early this year, opening the door for Democratic candidate C.O. Bradford and Republican candidate Pat Lykos, former police officers who have never prosecuted a criminal case, to put the local justice system on trial instead.

Bradford, the former Houston police chief, and Lykos, a former felony court judge, make sure to mention, in a county known nationwide for its frequent use of the death penalty, that the worst criminal offenders should be prosecuted to the hilt. But, despite substantive differences between the contenders, they both put greater emphasis on reforming the system so that many minor offenders get drug or mental illness treatment rather than a cell in the already crowded jail.

'Simply locking everybody up for everything isn't going to get us out of the process we are in now,' Bradford said. 'Our taxes are high, the jails are full and crime continues to go up. So let's exercise good stewardship of fiscal resources, reduce crime and understand that most people who commit offenses are salvageable, they can be rehabilitated, but they must be given realistic opportunities to reintegrate back into our society.

'That's not occurring and there are a number of reasons for that ... There are a lot of people who make a lot of money, billions of dollars, designing, building, constructing (prisons) and there's not a concern about whether you are guilty or innocent. They get paid to keep a warm body there. That's not justice.'

Lykos called this 'a critical period in our county. We have a tarnished law enforcement system. It is bad for justice, it is bad for public safety and it's bad for business. I pledge to you to restore public trust and confidence in the district attorney's office.'" ...

The article reports that "As chief, Bradford upgraded the domestic violence unit and established a crisis intervention team for encounters with mentally ill suspects. Coincidentally Lykos, who would be the county's first female DA, aimed many of her creative sentencing approaches at healing family strife and getting treatment for mentally ill inmates."

Read the full article.

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