Observations Do drug and other specialty courts reduce recidivism? President Trump Wants Drug Courts-Do They Work? Like evaluations of programs for serious offenders, outcomes for drug, mental health, and veteran’s courts are limited to small decreases in recidivism. For many, the focus is on low-level, low-risk offenders who may not need intensive treatment. Author Leonard […]
Efforts to close facilities like the Rikers Island jail complex in New York won’t work unless authorities find alternative ways to deal with seriously mentally ill individuals who run afoul of the justice system, New York’s former chief judge told conference-goers last week.
Efforts to close down Rikers Island, America’s largest jail complex, need to begin with finding effective alternative treatment for mentally ill individuals who are confined behind bars because there are no other places for them to go, according to New York’s former chief judge.
“These people are not in Rikers because they’re hardened criminals,” said Jonathan Lippman. “They’re there because they have a problem, (and) they don’t need to be brutalized by a penal colony that is a relic of the past.
“Instead of tough or soft on crime, let’s be smart.”
Lippman, who served as Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals between 2009 and 2015, spoke at an October 4 forum on the future of the Rikers Island facility, which authorities have promised to close within 10 years.
He was chair of the Independent Commission that produced the April 2017 report recommending the closure of Rikers.
The forum, entitled “Closing in on Closing Rikers,” was held at Baruch College of the City University of New York, and examined viable alternatives to prison for the mentally ill that have enjoyed success in other states.
At Rikers, 19% of the inmates have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
“We’re not getting at that population yet, but if we’re going to close Rikers we have to do so,” said Cheryl Roberts, Executive Director of The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit organization advocating for justice reform that co-sponsored this event.
Working with the New York Daily News and the Metro Area Industrial Foundation, The Greenburger Center invited behavioral health care expert Leon Evans, President and CEO of the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio, Texas; and Miami-Dade County Mental Health Court Judge Steven Leifman—both of whom have pioneered strategies aimed at finding alternatives to incarceration (ATI) for the seriously mentally ill.
Leifman told the group he is still horrified by the memory of his visit years ago to a mental health hospital in Miami-Dade County while he was an intern for a prominent Miami legislator.
“I walked into a hellhole,” he said, recalling the sight of one teenager strapped to a bed and given thorazine which made him overweight. The teenager, it turned out, was not there for psychiatric treatment; he was autistic.
In another part of the hospital, he witnessed six naked men being hosed off by a guard as if they were animals.
But today, he pointed out, the mental health system’s failure to provide adequate care for troubled individuals has only shifted the burden to jails and prisons.
“(Some) 40% of all people with mental illnesses in this country at some point in their life will come into contact with the criminal justice system,” said Leifman, who has been one of the country’s most influential advocates of ATI.
Other participants in the forum included New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an outspoken advocate for local and national criminal justice reform.
“Looking at the way we look at incarceration, and having the punishment fit the crime, is critically important,” said Speaker Mark-Viverito.
In support of this idea, to date, Speaker Viverito and the New York City Council have contributed over $6 million to ATI initiatives, and recently passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act which decriminalized non-violent, low-level offences and replaced them with a summons.
The Act is a boon for the homeless and mentally ill that frequent New York City streets and subways.
“When you think about incarcerating someone for public urination, it’s unpleasant, but does that really make sense?” asked Speaker Viverito, who believes that authorities have to re-envision their approach to non-violent offenders who are apprehended for minor crimes—if they are ever to reach their goal of permanently closing Rikers.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than two million people are arrested and booked into jails each year. A 2010 survey by the Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with mental illness are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, and 18 times more likely to find a bed in the criminal justice system than at any state and civil hospital.
These statistics are reflected in Rikers where, according to a 2015 New York Times article, a total of 4,000 men and women with diagnosed mental illnesses are incarcerated at any given time.
This number represents more than all the adult patients in New York State psychiatric hospitals combined.
But the problem is nationwide, according to Judge Liefman.
“On any given day, there are approximately 360,000 people with serious mental illnesses in jails and prisons and another 760,000 under correctional supervision,” he said.
“This is a shameful American tragedy and it must and can be reversed.”
To demonstrate what can be done to achieve this goal, Leifman discussed the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Criminal Mental Health Project, which he implemented in Florida in 2000. The project seeks to steer people with mental illness that have committed low-level offences away from incarceration and towards community-based care.
“Anybody that gets arrested on a misdemeanor in dade county, within three days they are evaluated and transferred from jail to one of our public or private crisis stabilization units,” said Leifman.
“Because they are on a criminal hold, we can reset the case to a few weeks, give them an opportunity to stabilize, have a team go see them, and offer them an opportunity to come into the program.”
If the person is accepted into the program, they can be in from three months to a year, depending on their illness and charges. While there, they are helped to find housing, clothes, benefits, and are assigned a peer counselor and case management assistance to lower their chances of reoffending.
Leifman said that, as a result of this program, recidivism rates in arrests of the mentally ill have, to date, fallen from 70% to 20%.
This focus on treatment and diversion over arrest and incarceration is believed by the criminal justice community to be the best option for improving what is considered a broken and costly system.
According to a 2014 report from The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, the U.S. spends $80 billion on incarceration costs every year. By relying on the criminal justice system to provide services, taxpayers are losing money by putting away people who come out worse than when they went in, Liefman observed.
“It’s gotten so bad that our communities are now having to choose between building a new jail and a new school or hospital,” he said.
“There’s something wrong with a society that is more willing to incarcerate its (population) than it is to treat it.”
For Judge Lippman, Rikers Island is a symbol of the misguided idea that mass incarceration has any rehabilitative function.
“Whether you’re there for three days, three weeks, or three years, you wind up in a much worse place than when you came in,” said Lippman, who agrees that diversion and treatment are the best course of action.
“It’s not just about punishing people, but it’s what the outcomes are for people coming into the criminal justice system and the impact on society.”
In addition, through research for his report recommending the closure of Rikers, Lippman found that by closing the prison, and focusing on smaller, more up-to-date facilities, New York would save over $1 billion annually.
The first step, in his mind, is lowering the prison population from 10,000 to 5,000, and the mentally ill are a key population.
“We need programs to focus on mental health in particular,” he said. “Programs that identify people with mental health problems before they get into the system.”
He cited programs such as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which police departments around the country, including New York, Texas, and Florida, have begun implementing with some success.
Focusing on de escalation, conflict resolution, and training to identify the symptoms of mental illness, CIT enables officers to decide if diversion is a necessary response to any situation.
“From 2008, when we started CIT, we had 117,000 arrests in Dade County,” noted Leifman. “This year , it was 56,000. Our jail audit went in half,”
According to Evans of San Antonio’s Center for Health Care Services, CIT-trained officers working with his program’s “one-stop shop” for treating the mentally ill and others in crisis were able to decrease the county jail population by 22%.
“Treatment does work,” said Evans, whose center offers psychiatric care, substance use services, and general healthcare. However, he stresses that the success of these kinds of programs depends on collaboration.
While first serving as the Director of Community Services for the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Evans became aware of all the people in the prison system of Texas who shouldn’t be there.
He immediately began working on an idea for a diversion program that would break the pattern of criminalizing the mentally ill in his county. However, in trying to get various departments and elected officials together, Evans experienced a lot of push back.
“Almost everybody said, ‘that’s a great plan, but not with my money,’” said Evans. “So, I went to the county judge.”
Working alongside the then newly appointed County Judge Nelson Wolff, Evans utilized this political muscle to help convene a health summit. Gathering together hospital executives, lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and business representatives, he built support for a more pragmatic and beneficial mental health system; one that meant less money spent on criminal justice, less-crowded hospitals, and homeless-free streets.
As a result, since the program’s implementation in 2002, Evans reported that recidivism rates for the mentally ill in his county currently stand at 6.6%, versus the national average for felons after release of 43% as reported by the Pew Research Center, and that taxpayers in San Antonio and Bexar County have saved more than $50 million over the last five years.
It is an example of cooperation and cohesion that he insists is necessary to emptying out jails and prisons like Rikers around the country.
“Be brave enough to talk about what doesn’t work, collect the data,” said Evans. “It’s not about who’s doing good or who’s doing better, it’s about improvement.”
According to Leifman, thanks to benefits like the passing of Kendra’s Law and access to extended Medicaid, New York is, in some ways, ahead of the game.
“We just got the law changed to be able to expand our AOT, which is an amazing pool for (the mentally ill) population,” said Leifman. “That’s one of the things you already have with Kendra’s Law.”
Effective since November of 1999, Kendra’s law grants judges the authority to issue orders that require people who meet certain criteria to regularly undergo psychiatric treatment. Coupled with mental health courts, which offer early screening in the court system, the law is a powerful tool in identifying and diverting the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system and into developing ATI programs such as the Greenberger Center’s own Hope House.
Scheduled to open in the Bronx in 2018, Hope House will be an assisted outpatient treatment center offering care and services comparable to the programs developed by Leifman and Evans.
The access to extended Medicaid allows prisoners to apply for insurance coverage while incarcerated and access said coverage upon release, the often impoverished mentally ill will have access to the funds needed to maintain medications and care.
Participants in the forum agreed that though many steps have been taken in the right direction, there is no one solution to the problem of Rikers, and no quick fixes in a system that still suffers from a “tough on crime” policy that stubbornly fails to acknowledge the data and science fueling the effort for change.
Joking that his program is an “overnight 17-year success,” Evans pointed out that achieving change and cooperation required the aid of a County Judge willing to bring together the community and make everyone work towards a solution.
He warned that what worked in one county in one state may not succeed elsewhere.
“Change is hard,” said Evans. “There’s so much politics involved, there’s so much money involved, and nobody wants the spotlight on them.”
Speaker Viverito agreed.
“Yes, we’re starting to see some sort of conversation and change of view and perspective on a national level,” she said. “But it’s still very challenging to get people to think that incarceration is not the only solution to the problem.”
Though the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed, and seemed a simple solution to ebbing the tide of New York’s incarcerated, it, nonetheless, met with controversy and resistance.
“People thought that we were having the city run amuck,” said Viverito.
“Bringing the mental health challenges to the forefront and making sure it’s not a conversation that is held behind closed doors will take us a long way to dealing with the issue,” said Viverito.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a New York-based contributor to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
The future of Obama-era initiatives to offer reduced time for federal offenders if they complete programs of counseling is uncertain, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But it called for more studies of their effectiveness.
Emerging efforts to develop alternatives to incarceration for federal offenders have an uncertain future since drug sentencing guidelines were toughened by the Department of Justice this year, says the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC).
The charging and sentencing policies outlined by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a May 10 memo “may have the effect of limiting the number of participants in the federal alternative-to-incarceration programs,” the USSC said in a report released this week.
“Without the support of the government, some of these… court programs may cease to exist, at least in their current forms.”
Alternatives-to-Incarceration (ATI) programs, in the form of drug courts, mental health courts and so-called “therapeutic” or “problem-solving” courts have been a fixture on the state judicial landscape for more than two decades.
Since the first drug court was launched in Miami in 1989, over 4,000 such alternative state courts now exist around the U.S.. Today, an estimated 55,000 adult state offenders participate annually in drug courts alone.
The state programs have been supported by national organizations such as the National Center for State Courts and the Conference of Chief Justices. However, they have also raised questions about their effectiveness in treating addiction or reducing recidivism.
At the same time, the USSC noted the “cost savings” realized from reduced prison beds and other factors is one reason they have been supported and promoted as a viable alternative to lengthy terms behind bars.
Nevertheless, such courts have been slow to emerge at the federal level, partly as a result of perceived conflicts with the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act and Supreme Court decisions. Today, federal ATI programs operate in 17 districts around the U.S.
Unlike “diversion courts,” which divert individuals to alternative channels such as treatment that will avoid a criminal record, the federal ATI courts offer convicted offenders an opportunity for reduced time if they successfully complete a program of counseling.
The USSC studied five federal ATI programs in an effort to assess their record in reducing recidivism, but concluded that there was still insufficient data to determine their overall success. It observed that the criteria used in evaluating the success of state programs did not automatically translate into evaluations that could be applied at the federal level.
“Proponents of (these) programs have pointed to limited data showing low recidivism rates of graduates of certain programs,” the study said.
“Although important, such data needs to be supplemented with data showing both the long-term recidivism rate of participants who did not successfully complete the programs, and the long-term recidivism rate of a meaningful comparison group of similarly situated offenders who received traditional dispositions of their cases.”
The five programs examined were:
- South Carolina’s “Bridge Program” for drug abusers, launched in 2010;
- The Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) program in the Central District of California;
- The Pretrial Alternatives to Detention Initiative (PADI) in the Central District of Illinois;
- The Repair, Invest, Succeed, Emerge (RISE) program of the District of Massachusetts;
- The Sentencing Alternatives Improving Lives (SAIL) program of the Eastern District of Missouri.
Most of the programs involved only small numbers of federal offenders, relative to those charged and sentenced in traditional ways, but USSC staff interviewed judges, attorneys and other stakeholders in an effort to identify the areas that needed further study by social scientists.
The programs were “collegial” in stark contrast to the adversarial nature of federal courts, the USSC said.
“The presiding judge often does not wear a robe and sits at a table with the other team members rather than on the bench, (and the programs) involve weekly or semi-monthly meetings with multiple participating defendants,” the study reported.
Similar to state programs, the federal court teams typically address specific mental health and substance-abuse issues afflicting a defendant, and they work as well to improve defendants’ lives through counseling on family relationships, physical health, education and employment.
Nevertheless, the USSC observed that the handful of evaluations of federal “reentry” court programs so far showed results that were “mixed at best” in terms of their effectiveness and their rehabilitative potential compared to traditional supervisory programs.
The study said the programs needed more examination, for example, of the role of judges in such courts, and an analysis of whether they resulted in genuine cost-savings to taxpayers.
“Not only are the programs relatively new in the federal system and only have graduated a small number of participants to date, they have also developed in a decentralized manner and differ from each other in significant respects,” the USSC said. “Thus they cannot yet be evaluated empirically to determine whether the programs meet their articulated goals.”
The USSC acknowledged that the new Justice Department’s hardline approach to drug sentencing might make such questions academic.
The nascent federal ATI programs are an outgrowth of Obama-era reforms, encouraged by then-Attorney General Eric Holder as a way of prioritizing alternatives to lengthy drug sentences.
But the May 2017 Sessions memo effectively reversed the trend, calling on federal prosecutors to charge and pursue “the most serious, readily provable offense(s)…those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”
At the same time, the USCC also noted that any expansion of federal ATI programs could also be hampered by the long-standing opposition in Congress to changing federal sentencing guidelines to encompass alternatives to punishment.
Nevertheless, the USCC made clear that it believed further empirical studies were necessary in order to effectively evaluate whether the programs were worth pursuing on a larger scale—and in particular whether they reduced racial disparities in sentencing.
“The recent emergence of federal alternative-to-incarceration court programs has raised several legal and social-science issues that must be carefully considered and informed by meaningful data before they can be answered by courts and policymakers,” study said.
For the complete version of the USSC report, please click here.
A three-year study of participants in a Florida mental health court—the longest of its kind—found “significantly” lower re-arrest rates among individuals who completed the program of community-based treatment and counseling.
A three-year study of participants in one Florida mental health court program found that the rate of recidivism dropped “significantly” after they successfully completed the course of treatment mandated by the court as an alternative to jail time.
According to the authors of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) study, their findings, which represent the longest period of examination of mental health court outcomes of any previously published study, demonstrates that alternative courts can end the “revolving door” which cycles many mentally troubled individuals between jail and the streets.
“The ‘revolving door’ has been exhaustive of institutional resources, resulting in such a poor system of treatment that many argue that the system …treats offenders with mental health challenges to the extent that recidivism is inevitable,” wrote the study authors, Julie Costopoulos of FIT’s School of Psychology; and Bethany Wellman, a doctoral student at the school.
Their study of 118 participants in a Florida mental health court, which was not named, found that three months after release, 90% were not rearrested. After six months, 81% remained free of any charges; and three years after release, 54% had not recidivated.
Just as significantly, the authors found that those participants who were re-arrested were picked up usually for much lesser offenses than those which originally landed them in trouble with the law.
The authors claimed the study provided additional evidence that the targeted community-based treatment mandated by the mental health court helped participating individuals develop the skills and confidence to overcome their illness to the extent they could avoid repeated involvement with the justice system.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics study cited by the authors found that 55% percent of male inmates and 73 % of female inmates in the U.S. were mentally ill, with 23% of those mentally troubled individuals experiencing incarceration three or more times.
With the phase-out of many mandated mental health commitments to state hospitals and similar facilities for the justice-involved over the last decades, criminal justice experts say jails and prisons are now effectively the largest treatment facilities for mental health in the U.S.
Mental health courts are among several court-based innovations aimed at providing alternatives to imprisonment for first-time or nonviolent offenders. The first mental health court was established in Broward County,Florida in 1997. But their numbers still remain comparatively low; as of 2016, there were some 300 such courts around the country, many of them funded under the 2002 federal Law Enforcement and Mental Health Project.
The FIT authors say their study should add more weight to arguments that alternative treatment for mentally ill offenders is cost-effective, and benefits both individuals and public safety.
“Jail doesn’t stop crimes by the mentally ill,” Costopoulos said in an interview published soon after the study.
The complete study, “The Effectiveness of One Mental Health Court: Overcoming Criminal History,” was published June 21 online in the Psychological Injury and Law journal. It is available for purchase here, but journalists who would like a copy should contact TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie at Victoria@thecrimereport.org
Readers’ comments are welcome.
Mental health courts can offer alternatives to prison for individuals caught in the criminal justice system. The story of one Texas young man shows what happens when they’re not available.
The fate of a 27-year-old man came down to 12 jurors sitting elbow to elbow.
Although they had no expertise, the jurors had been given this weighty task because the system had repeatedly failed Alfred Crain Ramirez II, of Victoria, Tx.
The jurors weren’t supposed to think about whether Ramirez’s untreated schizoaffective disorder caused him to aim a loaded, .22-caliber rifle at his parents during an argument and threaten to pull the trigger. But it was all they could think about.
Guilty or not guilty. Those were their only choices.
On Day Four, they chose the latter after their screaming carried into the courtroom.
Eventually, the two holdouts were worn down.
“Judge,” Jury Foreman Dr. John P. Soule wrote in angular, all-capitalized handwriting. “We are now unanimous on both counts, but want in the record he needs mental help.”
Soule underlined “mental help.”
Two million people with mental illness are booked into jails every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Experts say communities like Victoria should start mental health courts, which address a defendant’s underlying illness rather than punish them for a crime that may be a symptom of their illness going untreated.
They say people who complete them are less likely to be caught in the criminal justice system again because the court partners with the treatment provider, two entities that don’t always work together seamlessly.
No One There
When the verdict of “not guilty” came back, Ramirez’s attorney, Arnold Hayden, remembered looking around the courtroom, wondering who would step up to help his client next.
But there was no one there.
“I did my job,” Hayden said. “The DA’s office should have thought about that before trying this case.”
Ramirez was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, which each carried a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. A conviction also would have made it harder for Ramirez to get certain benefits, such as low-income housing. When the prosecution didn’t offer Ramirez probation, Hayden said he thought it best to go to trial.
Hayden thinks his client would have been well-served by a mental health court, but to District Attorney Stephen Tyler, they are “gimmicks.”
The probation department already supervises defendants with mental illnesses well and tells the DA’s office when problems arise so a judge can address them in court, Tyler said.
In Victoria, three probation officers are assigned to that task, and they meet with the defendant and a case manager from the local mental health authority, the Gulf Bend Center, every month, said Stacy Murray, a supervisor.
After Ramirez was acquitted, he was released from the jail without medication. He walked about three miles home, not knowing that his arrival would prompt his parents to dial 911.
The DA’s office had helped his parents, Alfredo, 78, and Evelyn, 61, get an order from the judge requiring Ramirez not to go within 200 feet of them for two years. The police served him with the order that day, and suddenly, Ramirez was homeless.
“It would’ve been better if they had said, ‘You’re guilty, but we’re going to order you to go to a hospital,’” Ramirez said a few weeks after the verdict was reached.
He was at the Victoria Public Library reconnecting with friends he’d met over the Internet before he was jailed.
He also was trying to look for jobs and a place to live. Both were difficult because his ID had expired while he was in jail.
Ramirez had $20 to his name then, and he’d never had a job before.
He spent some of that $20 buying reflective tape at Wal-Mart to tape to his clothing, so he wouldn’t be hit by oncoming cars at night after the library closed.
His mother, meanwhile, was at home, caught between worrying for his safety and her own.
Although they disagree about what happened that day with the rifle two years ago, they both know few good things have happened since.
“He let the police keep the rifle, and they are going to destroy it. That’s the only good thing to come out of this,” she said while going through her son’s messy bedroom.
Then she found swords, machetes and knives in his closet.
“Some of these, I don’t know where he got them,” she said.
The Challenge of Starting a Mental Health Court
In Midland County, which is in West Texas with a population of about 151,000 people, commissioners committed $166,700 from the general fund to keep their mental health court going. This came after it reduced participants’ arrests from 180 to five, and days in the jail from 3,135 to 180. Experts say that’s typical.
The cost to operate mental health courts goes up while a defendant is engaged in programming, but eventually they break even.
[Victoria advocates for the mentally ill have asked] Texas legislators to fund an $11.6 million, four-year plan to divert people with mental illness from the jails. Their plan calls for mental health case workers and deputies to build a rapport with people with mental illness that could prevent them from going into crisis and being arrested.
“It may be that we redirect enough of these that you wouldn’t need a mental health court,” said County Court-at-Law 2 Judge Daniel Gilliam, who also presides over Victoria’s DWI court.
But Carol Fisler, of the Center for Court Innovation in New York, said it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. People with mental illness should be assessed at each point in the criminal justice system so they can be diverted to treatment in the community.
Mental health courts can be limited to how many defendants they can serve at one time, said Dr. Fred Osher, of the Council on State Governments Justice Center. Midland’s will be capped at serving 25 people at one time so the probation officer doesn’t get overwhelmed, for example.
But judges have loud voices, and people will pay attention when they say they know firsthand more mental health treatment in the community is needed, he said.
A Cluttered Mind
Ramirez’s room, which sat untouched as his case made its way to the courtroom, is perhaps the best picture of where his mind was when he was arrested in 2015.
He slept all day on a faded orange couch and stayed up all night.
When he was awake, he heard voices and saw things that weren’t there. The only time he left his room was to grab something from the refrigerator. Food wrappers were strewn on the floor.
Ramirez thinks of himself as a survivalist, so when his mom gave him part of her winnings from a scratch-off lottery ticket, he bought the rifle from Academy Sports+Outdoors.
He says his mom knew about the purchase beforehand; she says she didn’t.
Evelyn Ramirez said the argument in 2015 started over a 2-liter bottle of soda.
She was working on the front yard when he asked her to help him look for it, she said.
“I’ve had both knees replaced and a plate in my back, so I can only do so much before I have to sit down. I guess I just wasn’t fast enough for him that day,” she said.
She said after her son struck her in the front-yard and at the doorway of their one story home, he came back with the rifle from his room and pointed it at her and husband.
“He said, ‘I’m going to blow your face off, both of you,” she said.
Ramirez doesn’t remember that. He said his mom gave him pills earlier in the day so he could sleep and he was later woken up by police and handcuffed.
Ramirez’s attorney, Arnold Hayden, said what probably pushed the jury to acquit his client were letters he admitted into evidence.
One, dated about a month before Ramirez turned 18, from Social Security asked Gulf Bend to share his records with it because he was applying for disability. Attached was a form signed by Ramirez giving Gulf Bend permission to do so. Another was a letter to Ramirez from Gulf Bend after he turned 18 informing him he was discharged from their care because he had aged out of services and indicated he didn’t wish to apply for more.
Hayden said he wasn’t sure whether there was a mix-up in paperwork, but he wanted “to show he (Ramirez) had tried and that he fell through the cracks.”
Tyler, meanwhile, said Hayden deliberately misled the jury by making an improper closing statement, and that’s why Ramirez is worse off than before.
Evelyn Ramirez said there’s enough blame to go around, though.
“I put my trust in the law, the DA and the 12 jurors, and nothing happened. I have no help,” she said.
The last she knew, police were looking for her son because he had threatened to kill himself when he couldn’t find a place to live.
“I can’t do nothing but wonder how, why and when,” she said.
Ramirez is recovering from a cold, but otherwise alive. He is staying at the Salvation Army. He temporarily had a part-time job as a knife salesman.
Two months after he was acquitted, Ramirez still hadn’t received any mental health treatment. He said he couldn’t get treatment without an ID or benefits, and he needed his Social Security card for that. The card was at his parents’ house, which was off limits.
None of it makes sense to the jury foreman, Dr. John P. Soule, who held Ramirez’s fate in his hands.
Soule has resumed seeing patients at his internal medicine practice in Victoria, but he still thinks about his first and only experience as a juror. He hopes to never be called again.
“There were a couple of nights where I could not sleep,” Soule said.
When he learned Ramirez was made no better off by the jury’s decision to acquit him, Soule was saddened.
“I’m not surprised at all, but I think that’s wrong,” he said. “This is clearly a case where someone needs to help this young man who cannot help himself.”
To learn about Midland’s Mental Health Court, click here.
Jessica Priest is a 2016 John Jay/Langeloth Health and Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a slightly abridged version of the final installment of a series called “Minds That Matter,” prepared as her Fellowship project. The full version along with videos is available here; and earlier installments can be read here. Jessica welcomes readers’ comments.
Bronx (NY) Mental Health Court Doesn’t Work Our notes: Specialty courts are popping up throughout the country and that’s good; the criminal justice system is trying to find ways of dealing with people who need to be diverted. Just note that there are some who claim too much success from specialty courts. Over promising is […]