[State District Court Judge] Krocker and others celebrated the official opening of Harris County’s felony mental health court, which started putting mentally ill defendants on probation instead of sending them to jail in May.
Krocker has been working to get a special court to oversee felony cases of defendants diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression since 2009.
“The youngest participant was 17 years old when he came in, the oldest is 61, and all of them are very sick,” Krocker told the group that included County Judge Ed Emmett, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.
She said the program, paid for by an initial federal grant of $500,000 with matching funds from the county, has 45 people on probation. Krocker said the program has room for 80 probationers.
Statewide, Whitmire told the group, 18,000 inmates take psychiatric medication. Of the 153,000 people incarcerated in Texas, Whitmire said, 32,000 were in a mental health system before they ended up in prison.
“Those 32,000 people are in our penitentiaries, at a cost of millions of dollars, because they couldn’t get the mental health services they need,” Whitmire said. “When we solve the problems of the mental health defendant, we’re preventing the next criminal act.”
This is great, and the only complaint I have is that there isn’t more of it. As Sen. Whitmire notes, the need for mental health services far outstrips the state’s resources for them. As a result we lock ’em up, which is more expensive, less effective, and far less humane than treatment. Judge Krocker’s court is a small step in the right direction, and kudos to her for it.