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February 15, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice Meets at the State Capitol in Austin

AUSTIN--The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice met February 15, 2000 at the State Capitol, in Austin.

The committee comprises Senators Ken Armbrister of Victoria, chair, Robert Duncan of Lubbock, vice-chair, Mike Jackson of La Porte, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, Florence Shapiro of Plano, Royce West of Dallas, and John Whitmire of Houston.

The committee addressed charges 2, 6, and 7 as issued by Lt. Governor Rick Perry. They are as follows:

Charge 2. Review information-sharing between law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, and mental health agencies about individuals, both adults and juveniles, who are identified or considered a risk to the public's safety and whether additional cooperative efforts are needed. The committee also will recommend how best to conduct a comprehensive review of the relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system to assure that the criminal justice system does not become the alternative placement for such individuals.

Charge 6. Review reintegration programs for juvenile and adult parolees and their families upon release to determine if strategies and coordination between state, local, public and private entities are effective. The committee will make recommendations to reduce recidivism.

Charge 7. Review the Interstate Probation and Parole Compact proposed through the National Institute of Corrections, which is scheduled for release in December 1999. The committee will make a recommendation as to whether Texas should enter into the compact, considering the fiscal impact the compact may have on state, private, and local entities.

Invited testimony began with individuals giving related testimony in regards to the second charge. They discussed the legal and health problems facing mentally ill criminals, health care for mentally ill criminals, and the lack of adequate court representation for these people. Later witnesses testified that the allocation of mental health resources for criminals and prison populations of mental health offenders in Texas needs to be improved upon.

Members of the Texas Youth Commission, Texas Mental Health and Mental Retardation Department (MHMR), the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission (TJBC), the Lubbock County Sheriff's Department, the Lubbock County MHMR, and numerous others discussed issues relating to charge six. The first group to testify stated that 50-75% of juveniles in detention programs suffer from some sort of mental problem. Vicki Sprigg, Executive Director for TJBC, spoke in depth about the various mental disorders that affect juveniles within the Texas probation program. These disorders include manic depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse, sexual abuse, and self abuse.

George Kaiser, from the Division of Community Corrections, Rick Master and others testified on charge seven.

Public testimony followed. After public testimony, the committee recessed subject to call of the chair.

The committee will submit copies of its findings from these meetings in a final report as soon as possible, but no later than September 1, 2000. This date has been chosen so that the work of the committee can be considered when the Legislative Budget Board is developing performance and budget recommendations to the 77th Legislature. Copies of the final report will be sent to the Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the Senate, Legislative Council and Legislative Reference Library. The final report of the committee should be approved by a majority of the voting members of the committee and include any recommended statutory changes.

Click here to listen to the hearing in RealAudio format.

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