Written Testimony on SB 562


TCDD logo   Mary Durheim, Chair
Andrew D. Crim, Vice Chair
Beth Stalvey, MPH, PhD, Executive Director

6201 E. Oltorf, Suite 600
Austin, TX 78741-7509
Email: tcdd@tcdd.texas.gov
Website: www.tcdd.texas.gov
  Phone: (512) 437-5432
Toll Free: (800) 262-0334
Fax: (512) 437-5434

Senate Criminal Justice Committee

Written Testimony on Senate Bill 562
Procedures Regarding Persons Who Are or May Be Persons
with a Mental Illness or Intellectual Disability

April 16, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on Senate Bill 562 and its substitute, which provides criminal or juvenile procedures regarding persons who are or may be persons with a mental illness or intellectual disability.

The Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) is established by state and federal law and is governed by 27 board members, appointed by the Governor, 60% of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. TCDD’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.

SB 562, which is the product of recommendations by the Judicial Commission on Mental Health, provides significant improvements to current law. Current law dictates that when a person who has or may have mental illness is charged with the violation of certain laws, the judicial order of commitment must be to a maximum security unit (MSU). Under the procedures in SB 562, such an individual would be committed to a facility designated by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The bill also clearly states that people with intellectual disabilities are equally included, i.e., that HHSC would designate the placement for them as well.

Texas has two state hospitals which have MSUs: Vernon and Rusk, totaling 300 beds statewide. Currently 350 people on the MSU waitlist have been charged with offenses other than murder or sexual assault.

Holding individuals in MSUs when other placements are more appropriate places a strain on the availability of forensic beds, thus requiring many individuals court-committed to an MSU to wait in jail until a vacancy opens up. Further, commitment to an MSU disproportionately affects individuals with an intellectual disability by extending the term of commitment indefinitely–historically such people have been less able to obtain judicial reconsideration than others, even on the request of professional staff. SB 562 would remedy this inequity by requiring that a person committed to a maximum security unit who is found not to be manifestly dangerous be transferred to a non-secure facility designated by HHSC within 60 days of admission to the MSU.

In these ways, Senate Bill 562 would create a way to avoid unnecessary commitment of an individual with an intellectual disability to an MSU and to transfer such an individual to a more appropriate setting in a relatively timely manner when the individual is found not to be manifestly dangerous.

These changes not only encourage greater availability of limited forensic beds and help to move people out of jails into more therapeutic settings, but they also place appropriate emphasis on clinical considerations that better ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are placed in the most integrated, person-centered settings appropriate to their needs. These improvements are consistent with policy priorities and goals of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide additional information or be of other assistance.

Respectfully Submitted,

Linda Logan, MPAff
Public Policy Specialist
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities