Felony Mental Health Docket
Individuals with mental health disorders often become involved in the justice system when they do not have access to treatment options and stabilizing supports in the community. Due to these and other complicating factors, traditional rehabilitative efforts often fail.
To enhance our response to the needs of justice-involved individuals who have mental illness, Williamson County has established the Felony Mental Health Docket (FMHD). Through an evidence-based approach founded on the problem-solving court model, we address the unique needs of persons with a health condition which may include co-occurring substance use disorders (SUD) and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), who are facing felony charges.
Through a combination of diversionary programming and court-ordered supervision and following the characteristics of a mental health court program as defined in Texas Government Code, our goal is to lower recidivism rates for program participants and increase community safety. This approach includes trauma-informed and culturally responsive mental health and substance use treatment to promote healing and transformation, enabling participants to live a meaningful life on the other side of a psychiatric diagnosis and legal charges. It also has a positive impact on the county budget by reducing the length of time participants are incarcerated in the county jail.
The FMHD is a treatment-oriented court that seeks to positively impact participants and the community at large. We do this by:
- Reducing recidivism
- Enhancing public safety;
- Improving the quality of life for persons with mental illness, IDD and co-occurring disorders; and
- More effectively using government resources by reducing incarceration and related costs for individuals with mental illness.
The program utilizes a pre-adjudication track and a post-adjudication track. Cases are identified by Court team members who understand mental illness and its impact on the actions of those who find themselves involved in the legal system. The project team also understands the importance of early identification of participants and a non-adversarial approach to help facilitate engagement in services. The FMHD is a collaborative effort of several justice system stakeholders.
Presided over by the Honorable Donna King, of the 26th District Court, other team members include:
- Williamson County District Attorney's Office
- Bluebonnet Trails Community Services (the Local Mental Health Authority (LMHA))
- Williamson County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD)
- Specially trained lawyers who are uniquely qualified to represent participants
In addition to the team members listed above, the FMHD is supported by other community partners who are committed to the success of those served through the program
Most cases are identified by the Defense Attorney, due to the ongoing and in-depth interactions between attorney and client. In addition, potential participants may be identified by:
- The LMHA Clinician performing mental health screenings and assessments in the jail;
- The Assistant District Attorney in whose court their case is assigned;
- The Pretrial Services Officer supervising a case pre-adjudication;
- The Probation Officer supervising a case after disposition; or
- The Judge presiding over the case.
In these instances, the individual who identifies a possible candidate should visit with the Defense Attorney in order to initiate the application process.
The FMHD is designed to serve individuals who are charged with a felony offense in Williamson County. To qualify for the FMHD, individuals must also:
- Have a mental health diagnosis or intellectual or developmental disability
- Be 17 years or older and not a participant of another Williamson County specialty court program
- Express willingness and ability to participate and complete court conditions
- Not be charged with a sexual offense, murder/manslaughter, or aggravated assault with serious bodily injury
Note: Participants may also have contemporaneous misdemeanor charges.
The Defense Attorney should work with their client to submit the Felony Mental Health Docket Application Form (PDF). Once completed, the application is screened by the District Attorney’s Office, who will make a recommendation on acceptance into the program. Attorneys should carefully review the application materials and ensure that they follow each step and submit all required paperwork.
After applying, participants are evaluated by Bluebonnet Trails Community Services (BTCS). BTCS will complete a series of screenings and assessments to be reviewed alongside prior treatment records. This information will be used to support the development of an individually tailored treatment plan, created in partnership with the participant.This plan starts with the participant's stated life goals and outlines interventions to be provided by appropriate mental health and substance use providers, as well as natural supports and community organizations. The intent is to provide hope by breaking a seemingly overwhelming journey into manageable steps, ultimately supporting the participant to regain control over their life.
Each participant admitted into the program is appointed an attorney from a specialized appointment wheel created for indigent individuals who qualify for admission.
Participants will be supported by a dedicated staff member from BTCS, who coordinates the participant's program-related interactions with their case manager, treatment providers, and community partners to oversee progress toward goals and objectives on the treatment plan. Participants will also have frequent interaction with their attorney, the prosecutor, and the Court.In the best interest of the participant, the Court will utilize incentives to promote positive behaviors and appropriate sanctions when necessary to modify behaviors that are inconsistent with program goals.
The goals of the FMHD provide the framework for a holistic approach to addressing factors that lead to justice-involvement for our program's participants, supporting reduced recidivism and meaningful recovery.
How do we achieve those goals? Through:
- Fostering relationships with mental health stakeholders to improve service-matching;
- Promoting safe and secure living throughout participation and after graduation;
- Capturing and monitoring data concerning the number of participants admitted into the program, number of graduates, number of incompletions, number of days in jail, and number of subsequent arrests after admission into the program;
- Improving public safety by promoting active participation in intensive case management and supervision;
- Enhancing collaboration between criminal justice system partners, treatment providers, and community non-profit resources by hosting a semi-annual stakeholder planning and coordination meeting; and
- Increasing utilization of community resources to improve access to mental health, IDD supports, and substance use treatment service before, during, and after court appearances.
The FMHD utilizes a Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) team approach to serve program participants through the court process as they reintegrate into the community.Trained and credentialed specialty care providers use trauma-informed practices focused on supporting successful re-entry into the community.The goal is to provide integrated services for persons with co-occurring mental health, intellectual, developmental, and/or substance use needs.
The FACT Team may coordinate a variety of services designed to support participants, such as:
- Psychiatric evaluations and treatment
- Housing Support
- Peer Support
- Rehabilitative Skills Training
- Case Management and Care Coordination
- IDD Services
- Primary Care
- Substance Use Services
- Employment Support
- Medication Assisted Treatment
- Psychiatric Medications
Treatment providers are trained to provide services using evidence-based curricula, such as Illness Management and Recovery (IMR); Motivational Interviewing; Seeking Safety; Cognitive Adaptation Training (CAT), Individual Placements and Supports (IPS); Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP); Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT); Cognitive Processing Therapy and more.
Understanding a healthy body supports a healthy mind, program participants will be connected to primary and specialty healthcare to meet medical needs.Additionally, the program will seek to address identified needs associated with socio-economic determinants of health by linking to transportation, food resources, emergency financial assistance, housing, employment, and other resources.