Texas Judges Are Leading a Cultural Shift on How We Handle Defendants With Mental Health Problems

When it comes to mental health, the National Center for State Courts has cited a need for a cultural shift in our courts, and accordingly, Texas judges have made the decision to step up and lead the way with reforms that will benefit the lives of all Texans.In January, the Supreme Court of Texas and the Court of Criminal Appeals, for the first time, formally joined together as one court to focus the attention of the highest judicial officials in the state on one topic: mental health. People from across the state appeared before Texas' high courts to testify on how the judicial branch can play a key role in transforming the way we treat people with mental health needs.This Tuesday, the result of that hearing, a groundbreaking, permanent Judicial Commission on Mental Health meets for the first time in Austin, with 31 commissioners and dozens of mental health advocates and professionals coming together as a whole new problem-solving model for the Texas court system.Until now, our traditional model of crime and punishment has been poorly equipped to handle defendants with mental health issues. These defendants have needs that manifest themselves in all sorts of court cases, civil, criminal, probate or family. Judges in juvenile and criminal justice systems, as well as our civil courts, need to understand complex mental health issues. At their critical points of intervention, the judiciary has a unique opportunity to profoundly impact lives.To make good decisions, courts must have specialized training and an understanding of best practices and the resources available to treat people with the care they need. There is no law school or single source to adequately prepare our judges and lawyers for the kinds of mental health problems they must address in our courts. Judges and lawyers often need input from family, professionals and other experts to appropriately meet the needs of people in crisis.  Continue reading...

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