More than 300 people attended the inaugural Mental Health Conference offered by the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT), where counties and professionals presented and discussed best practices in serving the mental health needs of offenders in the various components of our criminal justice system.
“It starts with intake by the officer on the street and goes all the way through the criminal justice system until they reach the end of their probation and or parole,” said Carmella Jones, program specialist for CMIT. “The process is a challenge for all offenders, but for those with mental health issues, there are so many more needs for services. All the counties are facing the issue, but some are more amplified than others. We realize it takes all of us working together to deal with these issues.”
More than 300 people from the medical and criminal justice systems attended the CMIT Mental Health conference.The conference featured a series of workshops that addressed mental health issues throughout the system, including corrections, parole, probation, courts, law enforcement, advocacy groups and medical professionals. It featured initiatives implemented in many counties in the state as well as professionals in the field.
“It was valuable to work with numerous people from all walks of the criminal justice system,” said one participant.
To address the needs of people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system, the four-day conference offered sessions on assessing offenders for suicide, medical and mental health issues; implementing effective mental health services in jails; understanding criminal and civil competency issues in courts; addressing the needs of veterans and other special populations with substance abuse or medical issues; establishing mobile crisis intervention services; focusing on medication issues; exploring legislative mandates; and collaborating with other agencies.
Brian Shannon discussed legal issues for those with mental health issues.“I found the speakers and their knowledge of the topics to be very beneficial,” said another participant. “They were all very open to answering questions as well as providing contact information for future questions.”
Counties shared programs they have implemented to address the needs of offenders with mental health issues. Among these are:
- Rockwall County, the smallest county in the state, provides direct behavioral health service to identified inmates.
- The University Health System in San Antonio developed a diversion program for people arrested by the city magistrate to prevent incarceration of persons with special needs and offers assessment, crisis intervention, brief counseling, and community referrals for those in the program.
- Montgomery County offers an inpatient competency restoration program through a collaborative effort between the county jail and the Texas forensic hospitals.
- The Travis County Sheriff’s Office established a mental health team to respond to calls for people in crisis and to divert them to mental health services.
- The Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office implemented special therapeutic housing units in its jail and conducts in-jail restoration of competence to stand trial. One of the sessions discussed mobile crisis intervention.
- MHMR of Tarrant County has developed programs to deal with people with mental illness who come in contact with the criminal justice system, from pre arrest through sentencing.
- The Harris County Office of Mental Health and Medical Security Unit, which was awarded the 2013 Program of the Year by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, provides specially trained sheriff’s deputies assigned exclusively to the unit, where inmates receive mental health and general health care.
- Bell County’s Community Supervision and Corrections Department developed a PTSD/Substance Abuse Program and Veteran Court to address issues involving the unique needs of this population.
- Brazos County Mental Health Unit provides a crisis intervention team and diversion program for offenders with mental health issues.
- The Burke Center provides a variety of quality behavioral healthcare services to people with mental health and intellectual and development disabilities for 12 rural counties.
Several counties and agencies shared their expertise. “Having the opportunity to hear what other mental health centers are doing and the way they collaborate with the various community agencies in their area was the most beneficial,” said a third participant.
The sessions also discussed upcoming legislative changes, including the Mental Health Standards by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, which outlines benchmarks for care and treatment, administration, personnel and legal issues.
One of the key messages from the conference was the need to work collaboratively with partners in the community. “There is strength in numbers,” said Lee Johnson, Deputy Director of the Texas Council of Community Centers. “Strong partnership can have a tremendous impact on public policy decisions.”