One of a kind office works for those with special needs - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

11/13/09

One of a kind office works for those with special needs

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By Ann Wyatt Little  - bio | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Across the nation, and right here in Lubbock, people charged with crimes who have mental health conditions stay in jail longer than others, and it has nothing to do with the crimes they are charged with.

In just six months, the Lubbock Special Needs Defender’s Office has helped nearly 150 individuals and is working on 94 cases. It’s the first office of it is type in the state of Texas and the second in the country.

In just a two day period, one fifth of the people who were booked into the Lubbock County Jail were identified as having some type of mental health condition. “Here in Lubbock, those people who have mental health conditions spend the longest time in jail and it’s not directly related to their crime,” says Lubbock County Court Administrator David Slayton.

Slayton and others were instrumental in opening the Lubbock Special Needs Defender’s Office back in the spring thanks to a $500,000 grant from the state. The office receives clients with mental health issues after they have been booked and the cases are assigned to attorneys.

364th District Court Judge Bradley Underwood says this office will help speed up the process. He says he has to know that a defendant who appears before him knows what is going on. “What this office is doing is assessing the defendant’s right up front for who has mental health issues and for those that do they get a trained attorney to represent them right off the bat,” says Underwood who is excited about this program.

Sheriff Kelly Rowe says the longer those charged with crimes stay in jail the more of a problem it becomes. “There are people who need to be in jail who have special needs but they need to work through the system. We want them there but we want to get them expedited through the system and not stuck or tie up valuable resources we need in other areas,” says Sheriff Rowe.

On average it costs about $15 more a day to jail people with mental health issues mostly because of medication.

Once grant money runs out, Lubbock County will absorb the cost of running the office. Commissioner Bill McCay says the idea behind the program is that there will be fewer inmates. “Even though spending tax dollars for the program individuals will become tax payers as opposed to a tax burden. So worst case scenario is we break even but this is the right thing to do,” says McCay.

All sides of the law agree the work this office does is a good thing for the criminal justice system and your tax dollars.

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