Angelina County district judge holds mental health docket to help offenders

Angelina County district judge holds mental health docket to help offenders

ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - The idea of having a mental health court is gaining attention across the state and is now trickling down into Angelina County.
For those on probation, a district judge is creating a path for the mentally ill to get their lives back on track, by starting a mental health docket.

Offenders who are living with the challenges of mental illness are under intensive supervision. In efforts to help them, District Judge Paul White created a special docket more than six months ago.

"We felt like these offenders were not such a high public safety risk that they need to be in prison, so they're on supervision," White said.

White said he sees these special cases with individuals who have an underlying mental health condition with either a mental illness or an intellectual disability.

"I like to believe, just by definition, if we've given someone probation or community supervision, we don't think it's a personal safety risk for the community, we wouldn't put them on supervision otherwise, we would put them in the penitentiary," White said. "So we don't think they're a high risk. But if their mental health isn't managed though, I think they become a higher risk."

The offenders must see a mental health specialist on a regular basis along with managing their medical treatment. Additionally, they must appear before white every month along with a family member or guardian who is helping them through this process and the assigned probation officer to report their mental health status.

Probation Officer Cheryl Hester said she and her colleagues have seen a lot of progress.

"They want to be able to come to the courts and say 'hey I'm doing well.' These are the progresses I'm making in my life and I'm moving forward," Hester said.

White said currently this docket is part of his court where there is no additional funding. However, in his next term he hopes to create a mental health court through money from various grants which could cost close to $100,000 to $150,000.

According to white, around 22 individuals are currently part of the mental health docket.

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