AUSTIN, TX–This week Lt. Governor David Dewhurst announced interim charges to deal with issues related to criminal justice procedures and institutions in Texas.
The charges ask the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, chaired by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and vice-chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), to study the operations of the Texas prison system with respect to physical and mental healthcare treatment and the potential cost savings associated with identifying offenders with dual diagnoses– routing individuals into appropriate services before, during, and after involvement with the criminal justice system. Dewhurst also charged the committee to study the way in which geriatric parole cases are currently evaluated and identify opportunities for reducing costs associated with inmate population–without compromising public safety.
“The state of medical and mental health care within the prison system presents an opportunity for Texas to improve a process that could ultimately save money and reduce the rate of repeat offenders while better protecting public safety,” said Dewhurst in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “Texas has always been tough on crime and these charges can make us even smarter on crime. I look forward to the findings of the Criminal Justice Committee on efforts to make the system more efficient for all Texans.”
Lt. Governor Dewhurst additionally asked the committee to study and make recommendations related to jail diversion, reduced recidivism rates, and access to services for those within the system who suffer from a mental illness. Studying progress and implementation of the jail diversion pilot program for the mentally ill in Harris County was recommended as well.
Senator Huffman responded to Breitbart Texas about the message from Dewhurst: “As Vice Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee,” Huffman said, “I am pleased that we will focus on inmate health, specifically mental illness, during the interim. Last session I authored Senate Bill 1185, which created a jail diversion pilot program in Harris County for those suffering from mental illness. “
“The second interim charge issued today,” she continued, “shines a spotlight on the Harris County program and while the program is still in its infancy, it has the potential to become a model to address the mental health crisis in our jails. I am eager to work with my colleagues to study and enact common-sense, cost-saving criminal justice reforms that will save taxpayer dollars.”
Chairman Whitmire did not respond to a request from Breitbart Texas about this interim charge.
In response to an inquiry from Breitbart Texas, Derek Cohen, policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice responded, “It is great to see the Lieutenant Governor and Senate investigating the critical nexus of mental health and incarceration. Intelligent diversion and in-facility treatment of the mentally ill will save taxpayer dollars while improving public safety.”
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