County part of pilot program to better address mental health in jails

HONDO, Texas – The Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health (JCMH) hosted a workshop in Medina County on Wednesday, May 8 to create a county-specific plan detailing the processes of how the county adheres to mental health laws.

The laws relating to persons with mental illness or intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) are complex and affect multiple, diverse stakeholders. For this reason, the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health created the County Mental Health Law Plan (CMHLP) pilot program. Medina County is one of eight counties in Texas that is a part of the JCHM’s CMHLP pilot program.
“At the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health, we noticed that the mental health laws are scattered across different codes. They affect different types of judges at different times. We wanted to gather all of the key participants to talk about how to work together more effectively,” said JCMH Executive Director Kristi Taylor.
From 10 AM to 4 PM, 20 participants discussed court proceedings for individuals with mental health concerns. Participants included representatives from the Medina County Clerk’s Office, Hill County Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers, Medina County Jail, Hill Country Regional Public Defender Office, Medina County Sheriff’s Office, Medina County Probation, Devine Police Department, County Court at Law Judge Mark Cashion, and Medina County Justices of the Peace.
Prior to this workshop, Medina County representatives attended four webinars about different mental health topics including Civil Commitment, Early Intervention, Specialty Courts, and Competency Restoration. The goal of this pilot program is to determine if creating this plan encourages collaboration, efficiency, cost-savings, and accountability for how mental health laws are managed at the county level.
Medina County Court at Law Judge Mark Cashion said prior to the CMHLP, stakeholders would get together to talk about what improvements need to be made in the county to better help people with mental illness who are involved in the justice system. Judge Cashion said he feels with the help of the JCMH, the county is gaining forward momentum.
“My jurisdiction on criminal cases is misdemeanors. I would see people coming in on criminal trespass and criminal mischief. They’re sitting in jail, we appointed an attorney for them, [but] they cannot negotiate with their attorney, pleas cannot be entered. There was nothing to do…and they would come into court, I would talk to them, and I could tell they didn’t know what was going on. That’s when I decided we had to figure out something better than what we were doing,” Judge Cashion said.
The county will receive a written plan in the next few weeks. The JCMH will travel to seven other pilot counties this summer and fall for workshops including Henderson, Burleson, Burnet, El Paso, Hays, Duval, and Travis Counties.