WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER?
“Texas has a problem and the COVID pandemic has only made it worse,” said Tyler defense counsel Donna Broom earlier this month. She saw the problem playing out once more when a client of hers—we’ll call him J.D.—was charged with a minor felony and after examination, found incompetent to stand trial because of serious mental illness. The court ordered him hospitalized, but since the state’s mental hospitals are full, the next step would be no step—with him locked up, untreated, to deteriorate in a cell, for months, if not years.
Shouldn’t there be an alternative? Well, yes, says Broom and many advocates. Counties should have comprehensive outpatient restoration programs where that person can be properly treated —not held in their jails, which is expensive and wasteful for the county in addition to the detrimental to their psychiatric state. But there wasn’t any such program in Cherokee County.
The Texas Jail Project team began thinking outside the box and proposed a solution. “We had heard that there was an outpatient restoration program at the Andrews Center. The problem was it was only for the 5 counties within their region,” said Krish Gundu, executive director. It was such a good idea, the upper echelon over the Andrews Center granted permission, and at the same time, the court and DA in Cherokee County agreed: J.D. could now be treated as an outpatient in Tyler.
“This is the first time such a plan has been approved in Cherokee County and would not have occurred without the assistance of the court, the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office, Andrews Center and Texas Jail Project,” said attorney Broom. “When we all work together to come up with a solution that better serves the legal process and safeguards the rights of the defendant, we are all winners and that is an incredible feeling.”
The winner? J.D. and all of us.
Even better, when it was discovered that the defendant was indigent with no means of transportation, Texas Jail Project had the funds to help him travel to Tyler for his competency restoration meetings.
Donna Broom sees how this collaborative effort could be a model for other Texas counties. “If more courts follow what Cherokee County has done and are willing to create alternative solutions, waitlists in jails that delay both treatment and timely resolution of legal charges for Texas inmates will be minimalized,” she said, “providing better clinical and legal outcomes at a substantially reduced cost.”