Harris County Mental-Health Court Still A Ways Off

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After hearing about a recently-approved mental health court for felony offenders, a Katy woman -- who wished to remain anonymous -- was thrilled because she thought it would work perfectly for her 17-year-old son.

He'd been in and out of jail since last summer, after originally being arrested for assault. Calls to the Harris County Constables were made by the mother when the boy went into a fit of rage at her house. The woman hoped to have her son taken to Ben Taub Hospital for an evaluation, but he got thrown in jail instead. The judge was threatening to send the boy to New Choices, a drug rehab program inside the jail that hasn't been a good fit for mentally ill inmates.

Problem is, when the woman asked the prosecutor if her son would be eligible for the mental health court, she was told the court is a long way from becoming reality. A big problem is there's no money for the court.

Hair Balls put in a call to Jack Thompson, the district courts administrator, to find out the probability that the county will get a court devoted to mentally ill offenders.

"All that stuff is in the planning stages," Thompson said. "You have to deal with the staffing, the volume [of cases], and the big ticket item on that is going to be aftercare...for facilities for people who have these problems."

A good estimate on when the first case might be heard is about a year, according to Thompson. The first step is creating a planning team, Thompson said, to figure out all the details, and he expects planning to begin during the first couple weeks of February.

"I don't have any definite numbers or anything right now," Thompson said.

-- Paul Knight

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