Tuesday, September 29, 2009

John Tyler Administrator Talks Candidly About Truvia

From the Mt. Pleasant Daily Tribune:

By MARCIA DAVIS-SEALE - Tribune Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009 12:42 PM CDT

About 8:50 last Wednesday morning John Tyler High School (JTHS) Assistant Principal Winston McCowan, Jr. - a Mount Pleasant native - would respond to a disturbance he heard in a classroom two doors down from his office, pass a student he'd spoken with a few minutes earlier being led down the hall in handcuffs by security guards, and find one of his teachers, stabbed and unconscious on the floor. In a phone interview Friday, McCowan told the Tribune, that Wednesday would be a day he'll probably never forget.

He said he calmed the student - that other media reports have named as 16-year-old Byron Truvia - in the school cafeteria, about 30 minutes before the student reportedly stabbed Todd Henry in the chest with a kitchen knife, piercing the special education teacher's heart.

McCowan said he believes that schools should monitor more closely student histories and tendencies. He said that JTHS had no knowledge of the violent family background of the student charged with stabbing the teacher to death, and if they had, perhaps they would have managed his situation differently.

"You never know! With No Child Left Behind laws, you must provide all students free and appropriate public education in the Least Restrictive Environment."

A specialist in the realm of special education, the young - but lauded - administrator, who comes from a family of professional educators, said that in this situation he feels his biggest contribution has been to provide a supportive calm presence during the chaos.
As the administrator in charge of working with and evaluating the JTHS special education teachers, McCowan said he talked with Henry often. "He never talked about being afraid or threatened by the students. He worked in the prison system for 10 years before coming here. He was always seeking to help students."

But that day, the teacher lay silent, unable to help student or self.

That morning on his way down the hall, McCowan said he heard a teacher's aide scream out the words, "Oh, my God, he stabbed him!"
The commotion was coming from the adaptive behavioral class where Henry and a teacher's aide worked with Truvia and two other students.

It's a class, McCowan said, "for students who need to work on social skills. It's more of a structured one-on-one for students that really can't make it in the regular classroom."

The school administrator said he yelled for the school nurses, and for someone to call 911. "And they [the school nurses] began to work on him [Henry] doing CPR."

The two students were escorted out of the classroom and paramedics and firefighters crowded in.

McCowan said he remembers that when the ambulance came, he helped bring in some of the paramedics' equipment.

The school was locked down, following a crisis plan that no one ever really counted on having to use. "Things were very orderly-no students in the halls-only the required personnel in the hallways as in the crisis plan.

"The crisis team secured the parameters, we had police backups, made the required communications with school and administration, and all the proper procedures were in place."

But this was not a drill, a teacher was dying or dead, a student's future hung in the balance, and no one on campus that day would walk away the same.

McCowan said no one knew Henry's condition when the ambulance left with him. The assistant principal said he saw the paramedics were still working on the teacher as they hauled the stretcher carrying his body down the hall and into the ambulance.

"The Tyler police came in, roped everything off as a crime scene, and we closed the school down, put out messages to the parents, called transportation - the buses, and released our students at 10:45. By 11:45 the campus was clear, and we began debriefing meetings with central administration."

Just a few minutes before that class began, McCowan said, "We had a small disturbance in the cafeteria. He [Byron Truvia] was standing up against the wall. I knew he didn't like a lot of disturbance, and I told him to get out of the way if they [the other students causing the disturbance] came toward him. I wanted to calm him.

"He seemed fine. He always kept to himself. There were no warning signs."

In the days following the stabbing, McCowan said, students and staff had been leaving notes and flowers on a memorial mural, of sorts, on the classroom door. Attendance is back to normal. One of the students, who was in the classroom at the time of the stabbing returned to class on Friday, according to McCowan.

"The other student was pretty rattled, and hasn't come back," he said.

"We've offered counseling for all the students with the school psychologist. All the counselors in the district are here to help, with extra school resource officers and central staff administration. We went classroom to classroom yesterday offering support.

"We always have security on site, and we brought in extra police officers and extra monitors. I don't know how long we will have them. The superintendent just told us we would have them ‘for the foreseeable future.'"

"It was a learning experience - for all of us - puts everything in to perspective as a reminder of how precious life is. It could have been any one of us. I was beside that student a few minutes earlier. I didn't see any signs of a weapon on him. He had on blue jeans and an orange shirt. I guess the knife was in his pockets.

"We never had any recollection that he was previously violent. Now we know he moved here after Katrina. He did have a troubling home life, threatened his sister with a knife, and his mom's brother killed her mom [Truvia's grandmother]."

"I believe school systems as a whole need to monitor more closely the background and tendencies of students with emotional disturbances, and also the family histories as well."

He said that he feels it's critical that students be placed appropriately. "In every school district some students fall through the cracks, [in terms of] their disability and the appropriate placement.

"We never want to put them at a disadvantage either way. But if they can't function in a normal school setting, we should put them somewhere they can function."

McCowan said he wasn't aware of a culture of violence at the high school. "Any school is going to have challenges. I don't see this any different from the schools across town. We cater to a different area than they do and have some of those students coming from difficult families and environments.

"This particular incident was a random act of violence that was unprovoked, and was without warning."

McCowan comes from a family of educators. His mother, LaWanda McCowan, serves as principal of the local Corprew Elementary School. His dad, Dr. Winston McCowan, Sr., is a professor at North Texas Community College, and his two sisters both teach in the Dallas area.

This school year marks his first year as assistant principal at John Tyler, in charge of the discipline of 460 students (with last names E through L) of the 2100 students at the school.

McCowan was named Assistant Principal of the Year by the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, Region VII, 2009-2010. He served as assistant principal of Palestine High School last year, and before that, spent seven years working with students with special needs in the Texas public school system.

He said at the moment he is drawing on his family support and his faith to cope. "My wife is concerned and supportive. My children, ages two and seven months are too young to understand. My family calls or texts every day offering their support and their prayers.

"It's not every day you see something like that. There are moments my mind replays the whole scene…surreal…like a movie.

"Always running through a lot of our minds, ever since the incident, is the question of whether we could have done anything different. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder, ‘What could I have done?…probably for the rest of your life."

Truvia's Sister Talks About His Past

From kltv.com
TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Sixteen-year-old Byron Truvia is accused of the stabbing murder of John Tyler teacher, Todd Henry. Byron's family is telling the public he is not a monster and suffers from mental conditions. They also say their hearts go out to Todd Henry's family.

Byron Truvia and his family evacuated from New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit.

"They got flooded out and they moved here," said Shirley Williams, who lived by the Truvias.

Ever since they arrived Byron's sister Geniece says their lives have been devastated.

"My grandmother, she got killed in 2007," said Geniece. "My uncle murdered her and so it's just a lot of things been going on the past four years."

Shirley says Denise, Byron and Geniece's mom, is still mourning the loss of her mother.

"Her brother killed her mom," said Shirley. "He just snapped and the mother surprised him, flew in and surprised him Easter and went to his house, his trailer, came in and he beat her to death."

Denise did not want to talk on camera, but Byron's sister says he suffers from some mental conditions.

"He has a little problem as far as depression and anxiety," said Geniece.

She says Byron had just served two years for allegedly beating their other sister, but she can't believe he could commit murder.

"He wouldn't do nothing like that," said Geniece. "Because...Byron he come home, he eat...he lay down, watch TV, do his homework [and] that's it. You know, he ain't never killed nobody, you know. I just don't understand."

Geniece says her brother had gotten into some fights at school but made good grades and liked sports. She says just like the victim's family, they too are grieving.

"He's very smart [and] intelligent," she said. "He goes to church and everything, and I just want to say that my heart goes out to the Henry family and I'm real devastated about the situation. I'm hurt as well as them."

Byron's mother, Denise, said the only one that can help them now is God, and they are praying for strength through this ordeal.

Still Undecided if Byron Truvia will be Certified as an Adult

From kltv.com
By Philippe Djegal
TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The stabbing death of John Tyler teacher Todd Henry last week wasn't the only murder committed by a teenager to rock a community.

Last Thursday, a 16-year-old high school student in Chicago was beaten to death while on his way home from school. Four of the suspects are now in custody, one of which is also 16 years old.

The DA says he will be prosecuted as an adult. But, the jury is still out here in Texas on whether 16-year-old Byron Truvia will be tried as an adult.

Authorities say Derrion Albert was an "innocent bystander," caught up in a street fight between rival teens.

The gruesome images of his murder were caught on tape and depict his head being slammed with a two by four and him being stomped on while lying unconscious on the ground.

The DA in that case says one of the suspects, a 16-year-old, will be tried as an adult.

That's because according to the Illinois state legislature, all 15- or 16-year-olds charged with murder are by law required to be tried as an adult. In Texas, the law is less straight forward.

"Was it pre-mediated?" asked Laurie Ann Frank. "I think there's a lot of questions."

Questions that attorney in juvenile law Jennifer Deen says will take some time to sort out.

"In Texas, a 14-year-old could be certified," said Deen.

Meaning, in the case of Byron Truvia, the juvenile court will examine Truvia's family history, mental state and other factors to determine whether or not his case be transferred to criminal court.

"But, only for first degree felony, capital felony and aggravated controlled substance felony," said Deen. "And, then at age 15 any child can be certified on any other felony charge."

If tried in juvenile court, Truvia could face anywhere from probation to a life sentence, leaving open the possibility of once again living outside of a jail cell.

"The penal system is very different from juveniles as it is for adults, which juveniles it's focused on treatment, rehabilitation and counseling," explained Frank.

As an adult, he is most likely looking at life behind bars. However...

"He will never be eligible for the death penalty," said Deen. "He could only get life imprisonment if he is transferred to the adult court."

The DA's office still has about three weeks to file a petition official letting the court know what charges they will bring on Byron Truvia which will determine whether he'll be tried as a juvenile or adult.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SB 1557 Clarification from Dee Wilson

A reader forwarded an email to me originally transmitted by Lee Johnson of the Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers:

As many of you are aware, April Zamora of TCOOMMI gave a presentation at the Behavioral Health Consortium Thursday, September 10, 2009 on the changes brought to Art.16.22, Code of Criminal Procedure.

She affirmed that Art. 16.22 has been in statute since 1994 as a tool for identifying and beginning treatment for an alleged offender with mental illness who has been jailed following arrest. The article requires a sheriff to provide notice to a magistrate within 72 hours of receiving evidence that an offender has a mental illness. If there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant has a mental illness, the magistrate orders the local mental health authority to collect information to determine if a mental illness exist.

In an attempt to improve the screening in the jails, as required by Art. 16.22, the Texas Legislature passed SB 1009, Sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS), which contained an amendment requiring TCJS to develop a set of risk factors to use in assessing the overall risk level of each jail. Among the 9 risk factors is whether the jail is in compliance with Art. 16.22.

Attached, please find a bulletin by Dee Wilson of TCOOMMI for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. As Dee points out, the current process for conducting mental health and competency assessments have not been changed but does put in plain language a process for collecting that information and passing it along.

Here is the attachment.

Leveling the Playing Field: Practical Strategies for Increasing Veteran's Involvement in Diversion and Reentry Programs

Download the pdf.
Challenges facing the involvement of veterans in jail diversion and prison reentry programs and strategies to address these problems are explained. Sections of this report are: introduction; financial disparities; eligibility and access; experiential disparities and preparedness; practical steps -- five practical steps, three access and eligibility steps, five experiential and preparedness steps; and conclusion.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Is the DSM-IV-TR on trial or are repressed memories?
Watch the video from Massachusetts Supreme Court here.
Criminal; Evidence-- Various issues arising out of a conviction for sexual abuse of a child, including the admissibility of "repressed memory" evidence.

2009 Crisis Redesign Survey by Texas A&M

This is a reminder to participate in the 2009 Crisis Mental Health Survey by Monday, October 5th. This survey is anonymous, so if you have already replied to the survey, please disregard this reminder!


Law enforcement agencies, emergency room personnel, courts, mental health providers, and communities often find it challenging help people in mental health crisis. The 2006 “Crisis Service Redesign” report from the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) observed:

The systems for responding to mental health crises in Texas are uniformly inadequate to meet community needs. Other systems called on to serve as alternative sources of help, such as law enforcement, jails, emergency rooms of general hospitals, and social services, are not appropriate, cost effective, or able to provide the level and type of services that people in mental health crises need in order to recover.

To address these problems, in 2007, DSHS was awarded $82.0 million from the Texas Legislature to redesign the community mental health crisis system. Researchers from Texas A&M University are evaluating the effects the Crisis Services Redesign (CSR) initiative has had on communities around the state. This evaluation will provide important feedback to DSHS and to the legislature about the success of CSR.

We are asking you to participate in a survey about crisis services in your community. You were selected for participation in this survey because of your important role in assisting individuals experiencing a mental health crisis in your community. This survey is your chance to say how you think CSR is working in your community.

Please feel free to forward this survey to others in your organization who are knowledgeable about mental health crisis services.

In the next week, we will be distributing this survey through other means, such as organizational list serves. If you receive another request to participate in this study, please disregard that e-mail and use the link found at the bottom of this e-mail.

If you are willing to participate, please click on the link at the bottom of this e-mail to be directed to additional information about the survey and the survey itself. If you have any questions about the study, please do not hesitate to contact the primary investigator for the evaluation, Dr. Dottie Carmichael (979-845-9378; dottie@ppri.tamu.edu).

Thank you in advance for your assistance,

Dottie Carmichael

Texas A&M University

To participate click the link below:


(if the link does not work, copy and paste this link into the address bar of your browser)

Updated Texas Mental Health Code

17th Edition
Texas Laws
Relating to Mental Health

Reflecting changes in law passed by the
81st Legislature, Regular Session – 2009*
Throughout this book will be various statutory references to the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and the Texas Department of Health. On September 1, 2004 these three agencies were combined to form the Department of State Health Services. Any reference in statue to the legacy agencies should be read to mean the Department of State Health Services.
Disclaimer – The information contained in this book does not constitute the provision of legal advice. While every attempt has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this book, the Department of State Health Services, its officers and employees disclaim any responsibility for any errors in content or formatting that may be contained herein.
*Most changes in law reflected in this book become effective on 9/1/09.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mentally Ill in US Prisons and Jails

Part one

Part two

From English Aljazeera's Fault Lines

As the healthcare debate rages in the US, the fate of the hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people in American jails and prisons has been absent from the agenda.

In a special report Fault Lines' Josh Rushing visited detention facilities in Texas and discovered the true reality of how inmates with mental illness are treated.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Creating Flexibility from the Bench: Meeting the Needs of Juveniles with Mental Impairments

Texas Appleseed released a new juvenile court resource in August 2009 that contains information on the impact of current laws and policies on Texas' young offender and an overview of alternative "front end" approaches proven to keep youth from repeatedly cycling through the juvenile justice system.

Creating Flexibility from the Bench: Meeting the Needs of Juveniles with Mental Impairments.

TCOOMMI and Henderson County

From Athens Review:
County gets reprieve on mental health program

By Rich Flowers News Editor

September 15, 2009 08:33 pm

— Just when it seemed Henderson County was going to have to pay about $80 each for inmate mental evaluations, a state-funded program found new life.
Tuesday, the Henderson County Commissioners Court adopted a memorandum of understanding between the county and the Andrews Center which will enable the county to take advantage of the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical and Mental Impairments program.
The program provides mental evaluations for non-crisis inmates who are not in imminent danger of attempting suicide or harming others.
Under the terms of the memorandum, equipment owned by TCOOMMI will be used by the jail to access mental health services from the Andrews Center for incarcerated offenders in custody there. The use of the telemedicine equipment is intended to allow better access to services, maintain public safety and decrease officer transport and wait time.
“This gives the TCOOMMI program the opportunity to screen them here,” Henderson County Mental Health Coordinator Kay Dingler said. “They will do it on a weekly basis, and probably see five to 10 people, depending on the time required on each one. It is state-funded, and we only have to provide the room.”
Henderson County pays Andrews Center $30,000 each year for help with the mentally-ill, mentally-challenged, chemically-dependent and mentally-disabled. The center offers screenings to determine if the individual is in need of emergency services, and provides the county with after-hour mental evaluation and commitment screenings.
TCOOMMI was created by the Texas Legislature in 1989 to “reduce the time of additional imprisonment, reduce recidivism and divert offenders with mental illness, mental retardation and severe medical impairments to appropriate treatments instead of incarceration.”
“TCOOMMI has had a renewed spirit of working with us over about the last 30 days,” Henderson County Judge David Holstein said.
Dingler said TCOOMMI had been set up as a pilot program, but due to its initial success, millions of dollars have been allocated to keep it running.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Excerpt from the Minutes of the 09/09 BHC Consortia

TCOOMMI Rider 21; Contracts & 2010 Focus – April Zamora

April discussed TDCJ updates and recent changes in administration. She clarified that TCOOMMI is no longer a standalone division of TDCJ, but has been incorporated into another division. Dee Wilson has been promoted to Re-entry and Re-integration division. There will be “Re-entry councils” developed and information will go out as these are implemented.

April discussed TCOOMMI’s capacity as there have been some budget cuts in the past year. This resulted from trending analysis on caseloads that were not staying full, but COC services that were booming. Cuts in some areas were reinvested in other areas where the service demands were higher. TCOOMMI is moving toward a hybrid model of care focusing on high risk offenders. Multi Systemic Therapy programs at two centers were discontinued because outcomes were not any better than other programs. New contracts have come out and MH and Probation requirements are separate and care is now individualized rather than limited to 6 months.

She reported that TCOOMMI was not allocated any new funds, but were given several new mandates. TCOOMMI is now responsible for the “wrongfully imprisoned” program which covers all the needs (MH, physical health, etc) for individuals who are wrongfully imprisoned. Another unfunded mandate is 44.51 which involves release of 17-19 y/o TYC offenders who have special needs and requires TCOOMMI to serve them. In adult services TCOOMMI is piloting transitional caseloads of 50-75 to facilitate the transition into regular RDM services.

April discussed Article 16.22 and SB1557 and clarified that the current processes in place for assessment of individuals jailed who have MH needs may continue. Any assessment which is less than a year old may be used. The intent was not to require MHAs to conduct competency assessments on all MH offenders in jails. TCOOMMI will be sending a letter to Texas Council which explains the intent of the law and which can be used to educate law enforcement. April noted that the intent is only to make sure the magistrate is aware of the individual’s possible MH involvement and may include self-report by the offender, prior MHA involvement, or jail CARE cross matching. It does not require an assessment. Once the magistrate is aware of the possible MH involvement he/she may order a full assessment at the expense of the county. Joe Lovelace reported that the Texas Council will be convening a workgroup to address concerns around this issue.

April reported that there are upcoming training opportunities including the Texas Correctional Association conference. She encouraged MHAs to send people to this conference.

April discussed Rider 21 which provides new funding and requires TJPC to contract with MHAs if they want to provide MH services in order to divert kids from TYC. She explained that many areas are not applying for the funds due to fear of having to return part of the funds if outcomes are not met. She reported that so far only 4 areas have submitted applications, but she is continuing to work on encouraging TJPC programs to include MH services in their grants.

Medicaid Substance Abuse Expansion – Matt Ferrara

Matt discussed comprehensive Medicaid substance abuse services legislated by the SB796. The expansion will be studied after a period of time and must save money rather than increase Medicaid spending. Matt reported implementation timeline is targeted for June 1, 2010. Providers will probably have to have a Medicaid provider number and if in a Medicaid managed care area, must be in the network. Policies are currently being developed and must have CMS approval. Rates must also be developed by HHSC and rate hearings are anticipated sometime in October or November. Private LCDC providers will probably not be an approved provider type.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings

Access the report here.

This report presents the first information from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The survey is the primary source of information on the use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States aged 12 years old or older. The survey interviews approximately 67,500 persons each year. Unless otherwise noted, all comparisons in this report described using terms such as "increased," "decreased," or "more than" are statistically significant at the .05 level.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Missouri Sets New Standard for Juvenile Detention

From ABC's Primetime

Watch video

Innovative Facilities for Kid Criminals Are Short on Guards and Long on Hugs:

For most of the nearly 100,000 kids in America's juvenile justice system, life in prison means orange jumpsuits, barred cells and constant guard.
But the Waverly Regional Youth Center in Missouri is a different kind of detention center. It's the home and hope for 44 boys already embarked on a life on crime. The walls are adorned with colorful posters and bulletin boards with positive affirmations. Counselors and dormitories have replaced guards and cellblocks.

For over a year, "Primetime" lived alongside the kids to examine firsthand this radical take on juvenile justice. By taking some of the hard edges out of juvenile corrections, the state of Missouri has chalked up results that have corrections experts across the country taking notice.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wrongly convicted Texans become instant millionaires New law makes Texas most generous state for payments to cleared prisoners.

Read the rest here.

DALLAS (AP) — … Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year — making it by far the nation's most generous package. … Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment. Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money Texas provides.

Educational Aftercare & Reintegration Toolkit for Juvenile Justice Professionals, 2nd ed.

Download toolkit here.

Youth who are adjudicated delinquent frequently encounter problems in obtaining appropriate education services in placement, as well as when they are released and reintegrated into their communities. This Toolkit provides the basic information and resources needed to help juvenile probation officers and other juvenile justice professionals in Pennsylvania overcome (or at least minimize) these problems. While this Toolkit is specifically directed to juvenile probation officers in Pennsylvania, it may also be useful for the youth's attorney or for other juvenile justice professionals to help them plan for and participate in the educational aftercare of their clients.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Developing Mental Health Screening in Juvenile Justice

Download here.

The development of routine mental health screening for juveniles involved with the criminal justice system is explained. Sections of this brief include: the drive toward mental health screening; considerations in the implementation of a screening and assessment process -- fulfilling regulatory requirements, improving staff decision, and managing resources; and policy recommendations.