One area of growth in the criminal justice system is speciality courts for probationers. It started with drug courts, which were a way of accepting the idea that the drug war is a monumental failure without legalizing anything. Drugs courts have flourished and found their way into counties across Texas include Kaufman County. The idea behind speciality courts is that helping people succeed at probation is a better investment than locking people up for bullshit technical violations.
Kaufman County has two speciality courts for defendants, DWI and Drug Court (though drug court also handles mental health issues). What we’ve lacked is a program for pre trial diversion that tackles these issues. Why the delay? Well, with pre trial diversion you are not on probation, so the usually sanctions of locking people up for failing drug tests isn’t available. Instead, you have to find other ways to gain compliance and deal with the very difficult issues that are present with mental health disorders. The other difficulty is that the defendant hasn’t actually pled guilty to anything, so technically they could still have a trial and anything they say in mental health diversion court could be used against them.
Right now the counties have to find solutions for these issues themselves, and Kaufman County has a pretty long application process and waiver that offers some solutions. I’m hopeful that the lege will help expand these courts and offer some protections for defendants on these cases. At least until the point we maybe quit arresting the mentally ill and those who simply possess drugs? I mean, I can dream right?
So how do you get into mental health diversion court? Right now there are not any set guidelines, so if you have a case that your lawyer is angling towards PTD anyway, then you can always ask about this program. It’s pretty touch and requires weekly meetings at first, but eventually it becomes like regular diversion. The program is also set to last about a year and it can require the defendant sign a “stipulation of evidence” (read confession) to the offense. Which I find problematic since a mental health issue can negate the required mental state for many offenses. However, it may be worth the price of admission and you should discuss this with your lawyer.
I’ve been hearing discussions of another court for veterans that should get started soon as well, and that will be modeled after the Veterans Court in Rockwall County. So we’ll see how that works out.