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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
May/June 2011

Research study:

Mental health and criminal justice update

By Oliver J. Bell, Chairman

Have you ever noticed how some words are naturally associated with one another? For example, salt and pepper, rock and roll, twist and shout, or hide and seek. For the most part, these pairings are positive, unless you have poor taste in music. Similarly, there are other word pairings that are much less positive but nonetheless seem to be commonly linked together. One example is mental health and criminal justice.

During the past decade, persons with mental illness have inundated local and state criminal justice systems. Research suggests that there are a number of factors contributing to this issue, but one thing research does not support is the notion that persons with mental illness are more prone to criminal behavior. scales of justice graphicThe behavior of a person with mental illness may bring them to the attention of law enforcement, but there are distinct differences between unusual behavior and criminal actions. Local jails in Texas report that approximately 20 to 24 percent of their inmate population has a serious mental illness. Based on Fiscal Year 2010 reports, the prevalence rate in jails ranged from a low of 2 percent to a high of 61 percent. Fortunately, the last two legislative sessions have provided significant funding to local mental health agencies for crisis and diversion services. Preliminary results indicate that the increased funding has made a positive impact on diverting those with mental illnesses from local jails to treatment alternatives. For the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, less positive incarceration outcomes have occurred.

A two-year comparison of the states' mental health and criminal justice databases shows an increase of two thousand offenders with a mental illness entering TDCJ facilities. During the same reporting period, the percentage of probationers with mental illness has decreased. This is an area which I have asked Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairment, working closely with the Judicial Advisory Council and the Community Justice Assistance Division, to make a further review in an effort to identify the causes and potential solutions to this inconsistency.

Texas continues to lead the nation in the management of mentally ill offenders in the criminal justice system, and has been touted as a model program in many arenas. Those accolades come with a great responsibility, including the responsibility to constantly improve and refine our processes and systems relating to mental health issues among offenders. I am confident that, as we deal with these complex issues, we will continue to blaze the trail in this area, refining and improving our system, making our state will be an even safer place to live.


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May designated Mental Health Month

may calendar graphic

To inform the public of mental health facts and issues, and to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, the U.S. Congress has designated May as Mental Health Month.

Since 2009, Chairman Bell has encouraged staff to honor this national recognition by promoting mental well-being and mental health awareness throughout the agency. To help achieve this goal, important mental health information has been incorporated into regular staff training, and the Promotion of Positive (POP) Mental Health Award was developed to recognize those who promote the best practices in staff and offender mental health.

During its June 2011 meeting, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice will present its third POP Award. Further information on the award presentation will appear in the next edition of the Connections newsletter.




















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