Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New Private Mental Health Defenders Office in Lubbock

(From Prevention not Punishment): KCBD, NewsChannel 11 in Lubbock reports that officials in Lubbock County have received funding for a new program aimed at diverting offenders with mental illness from jail and providing them with quality legal representation ("New Program Addresses Lubbock County Inmate Mental Health," July 10, 2008). While both Travis and Bexar Counties provide public mental health defenders to those who have committed misdemeanor offenses, Lubbock's Private Mental Health Defenders office will be the first of its kind in Texas. The program will use county funds to pay a nonprofit organization to oversee cases defended by private attorneysHere's the full story:
"Efforts are underway in Lubbock County to save taxpayers money and increase public safety. A $400,000 state grant will help Lubbock County open a Private Mental Health Defenders office. The goal is to address the mental health of Lubbock County inmates could save the county thousands of dollars at the same time.If you commit a crime in the Hub City, you will most likely end up in the Lubbock County Jail. But Lubbock County Director of Court Administration David Slayton says, for some, crime is a by-product of mental health illness. 'These individuals need help, we understand that but we don't want there to be a public safety risk by releasing them back out on the street. To figure out how to best deal within the justice system has been really tricky,' Slayton said.Slayton says, come this fall, the county will try something new - a Private Mental Health Defenders office. The office initially will be funded mostly by the state, but by the fifth year Lubbock County will pick up the entire bill. '[What] We anticipate is the savings in the jail cost will be enough to pay for this over, probably multiple times over,' Slayton added.The state grant will put experts in the jail to help identify inmates with mental health issues. Something Sheriff David Gutierrez says will help the problem. 'We as sheriffs have had problems throughout the decades with mental health issues in the jail. The reality is that now we are trying to bring this across through the judicial system to identify them prior to intake,' Sheriff Gutierrez said.Slayton says as part of the program the court will have the option to appoint specially trained attorneys to defend those identified with mental health problems.Defense Attorney Ted Hogan says it will help move people more efficiently through the court system. 'It's a way of dealing with folks that aren't your traditional criminals. Helping folks get back on their feet who hopefully don't come back and enable us to do it much more efficiently than what the old system has allowed us to do,' Hogan added.The idea, and its potential savings, has some Lubbock County commissioner's support. 'Take the grant money and do what needs to be done. Take care of these folks and give them [sic] learned council and keep those folks from possibly going to jail which will save us tax dollars,' Commissioner Bill McCay said.But not all are in support. District Attorney Matt Powell tells NewsChannel 11 his office is already taking steps to make sure those with mental issues have good representation.Still Slayton says many could benefit from the new office. 'It's good from the perspective of the tax payer, it's good for the defendant and they can get the mental help they need with their mental illness,' Slayton added.This will be the first program of its kind in the state and one of the few in the country. It's expected to be up and running by the beginning of October."

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