Tuesday, January 2, 2007
From chron.com: A public defender's office solely representing the mentally ill — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — will soon begin serving Travis County, TX criminal defendants afflicted with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
The county's Mental Health Public Defender Office, launching this year with a $500,000 state grant, aims to break the cycle of crime by steering seriously ill, indigent defendants to mental health services and treatment.
"It's kind of an experiment," said Keith Hampton, director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "The ultimate goal is to route them away from jails and prisons, and get them into hospitals and community-based programs."
Although other Texas counties such as Dallas and El Paso have public defenders with special mental health units, Travis County advocates for the mentally ill say they believe the mental health public defender will bring special attention to the mentally ill's needs.
Marshall Shelsy, staff attorney for Harris County criminal courts who monitors trends in the justice system, said officials in Houston will be watching the new program closely.