Trouble in Mind

Texas's mentally impaired used to go to treatment centers. Now they go to prison.

But if the last session of the Texas Legislature is any indication, lawmakers are not inclined to approve bills that would improve the lives of mentally impaired offenders.

During the recently ended session, state Representative Glen Maxey sponsored a bill that would have created a pilot program under which mentally impaired inmates would receive the new-generation psychotropic medications. The bill would also have allowed paroled inmates to continue receiving the new medications through MHMR facilities.

"Ultimately, UTMB opposition was pretty much the reason we couldn't do it," says Robin Chandler, Maxey's aide, who made the bill her top priority during the session. "They would have had to administer it, and they said they didn't have the money or the capability. They were just totally and completely unwilling to do it. It was very unfortunate. We didn't feel like it would have cost a lot of money."

At the Hodge Unit: Ruben Morales, a second-time offender serving ten years.
At the Hodge Unit: Ruben Morales, a second-time offender serving ten years.
"If I have to go back, I'll either let them kill me or I'll kill myself": Aaron George, temporarily out of prison, with his sister and mother, Beverly.
"If I have to go back, I'll either let them kill me or I'll kill myself": Aaron George, temporarily out of prison, with his sister and mother, Beverly.

A bill by Houston state Senator Rodney Ellis to ban the execution of mentally retarded capital murderers met the same fate as Maxey's bill. The legislation would have outlawed the death penalty for any defendant with an IQ of 65 or less. The bill made it out of the Senate but ultimately died. Legislative sources say it was crushed by the governor's office.Ellis's bill would not have helped death row inmate Larry Robison, who suffers from schizophrenia, not mental retardation. Still, Lois Robison feels that the system failed her son.

In the summer of 1982, Lois tried desperately to have Larry placed in a mental hospital because of his increasingly strange behavior. He thought people were trying to kill him. He thought he was receiving messages from aliens and having out-of-body experiences — psychotic episodes intensified by his use of speed and LSD. Each time, she says, doctors and administrators told her they couldn't help until Larry actually did something violent. But when he finally did, it was too late.

In August 1982, Larry Robison fatally stabbed and shot five people in two cottages on Lake Worth, west of Fort Worth. He decapitated and sexually mutilated one of his victims, claiming he was acting on orders from the Bible.

"We were so naive," says Lois, "that after he was arrested, we thought he would go to a mental hospital." Instead, Larry was convicted of capital murder. He is scheduled to be executed next month.

Despite a campaign by his family and anti-death-penalty groups such as Capacity For Justice, Larry Robison says he's ready to die. "I believe there is something better waiting for me in the next life, and I look forward to it," he says. "I know my mother probably doesn't agree. She's very attached to me. But I'm trying to help her with that."Aaron George's mother, too, is very attached to Aaron. But unlike Larry Robison, Aaron George does not see a better life for himself anywhere on the horizon.

At the conclusion of his retrial, George was again found guilty of murder by a Montgomery County jury. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison — 39 years more than after his first conviction. Before the trial, George's attorney was gung ho about filing a class-action lawsuit about TDCJ's treatment of the mentally impaired. Now, even the appeal of George's latest conviction appears to be on hold.

George is still waiting to be transferred from the Montgomery County Jail back to the psychiatric care TDCJ system. Every day he makes a collect call to his mother, but each time the conversation grows shorter.

"All he can say over and over," she says, "is '99 years.'" "As the law stands today, the standards permit inhumane treatment of inmates." " U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice"The reason I left TDCJ was a 15-year-old mentally retarded Hispanic kid who, by the time he got to me, had been gang-banged so much he was also mentally ill because of the trauma." " Former Skyview psychologist Jeri Houchin"For the cost

of three days in prison, I can manage a patient for an entire year in the community."

" James Baker

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