Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TYC: Fewer Teens Discharged Over Mental Illness

TYC: Fewer Teens Discharged Over Mental Illness
Staff Writer

During the past two years, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) has expanded its treatment abilities for incarcerated youth and has significantly reduced the number of juveniles it has discharged because of their failure to make progress while in treatment for mental health issues, said Jim Hurley, public information officer for the TYC on Monday.

Hurley was not able to give specific numbers of releases but said that every youth who is admitted to the TYC is evaluated individually. "If they have been diagnosed with mental health issues, we have psychologists and psychiatrists and medication to treat them, and we also may send them to the Corsicana Crisis Stabilization Unit," he said.

The comments came in response to a widely distributed Associated Press story on Sunday night that stated that the 16-year-old juvenile who stabbed John Tyler High School Teacher Todd Henry in September was released from the TYC because the agency wasn't equipped to deal with his illness and had to release him under Texas law. Henry was sitting at his desk in his classroom when he was attacked.

The juvenile accused of the crime is being held in the Smith County Jail. His attorney, Jim Huggler, has requested that each of his scheduled detention hearings at the Smith County Juvenile Attention Center be waived in the "best interest of his client." The hearings have been scheduled every two weeks since the youth's arrest in September.

In July, the TYC had discharged the boy who later was accused in the killing of Henry. His dis- charge came because he had been diagnosed with mental health issues including schizophrenia, Huggler said.

The story also mentioned Jeremy Miera, now 21, who is serving a lifetime prison sentence for the fatal shooting of a 45-year-old roofer in May 2006. Records provided to the AP by Miera's family show that he was released on parole from a Texas Youth Commission facility in May 2005 and discharged entirely four months later for "inability to progress due to mental illness and mental retardation."

It was his second stint in juvenile detention after originally being committed at 15 for robbery and being returned for fighting at school.

While in juvenile custody, Miera was diagnosed with depressive disorder. His parole included intensive surveillance and conditions that required him to seek employment, do community service, remain at home in the evening and continue taking the antidepressant Prozac.

In most states, youthful offenders aren't discharged from custody because of mental illness unless they are being committed to hospitals. But under a 1997 law meant to keep mentally ill juveniles from being held in detention centers where they can't get proper treatment, Texas youths who are serving indeterminate sentences and who have completed their minimum required time in custody are released to their parents or guardians.

"We are required by law to discharge them if they have completed their minimum period confinement period and if they have a primary brain disorder that keeps them from progressing in our mental health programs," Hurley said. He said that because he is not a mental health professional, he is unable to determine when a youth is not making such progress.

"Even when they are discharged, we cannot force a parent to make sure they get treatment," Hurley said.

In cases in which youths are being placed on parole from the TYC, he said no one is released without re-entry planning. Hurley said the Commission works with mental health providers to ensure there is a plan in place to address the parolees' needs and that they monitor parolees.

Lawmakers approved a measure last spring that allows youth released from custody due to mental illness to receive case management services like those available to parolees. But the author of the legislation, Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, said the Tyler case has convinced him that the measure doesn't go far enough. "This has to be looked at much more globally than a little quick fix," he said.

According to the TYC, 206 juvenile offenders have been released in the past five years because of diagnosed mental illness. Of those, 43 have been reincarcerated. Most were returned to custody for burglary or robbery, but some were convicted of more serious offenses, including two for arson and two for sex crimes involving children.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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