By San Antonio Express-News
Four San Antonio judges will be serving on the newly created Judicial Commission on Mental Health.
This type of representation can’t help but benefit this community — and the state.
The commission, created through a joint order of the Supreme Court of Texas and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, will be taking a long overdue look at the problems facing the criminal justice system due to the lack of services for those dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse.
San Antonio appointees to the 31-member commission include 226th District Judge Sid Harle, who is also the administrative judge for the 4th Judicial Region; retired probate court judge Polly Jackson Spencer; and Ernie Glenn, drug court magistrate.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Barbara Hervey of San Antonio is co-chair of the commission, along with Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown.
State officials’ decades-long failure to adequately address the needs of people with mental health and drug abuse issues has resulted in billions of tax dollars spent each year on unnecessary emergency room visits and incarceration.
Across the state, some communities — such as Bexar County — have been successful in developing individual stopgap measures to slow the revolving door into the jail that many mentally ill and substance abuse patients pass through.
However, the lack of a uniform state policy and protocol for such cases is creating major headaches for an increasingly frustrated judiciary.
Every day, they face limited options on where to send defendants who would be best served by medical treatment rather than incarceration.
We must stop this revolving door through the criminal justice system for an underserved population. Simply, it is promoting unequal justice.
According to the Texas Judicial Council’s 2016 Mental Health Committee Report, about 1 million adults among the 27 million people in Texas experience serious mental illness. In addition, about 500,000 children younger than 17 have a severe emotional disturbance.
Substance abuse numbers are equally alarming. An estimated 1.6 million adult Texans and 181,000 children ages 12 to 17 have substance abuse disorders.
This is not a new problem that Texas is facing. It has been festering for decades, but no one has tried to tackle it head-on. Instead, there have been piecemeal efforts and workaround plans, none of them very successful.
It is encouraging to see this important issue finally taking on a higher profile with state leaders.