Jurist in Residence Letter
From Senior District Judge John J. Specia, Jr. (Ret.)
This resource letter of the Jurist in Residence (JIR) program is designed to facilitate communication among the JCMH, the judiciary, and mental health stakeholders. Please forward this letter to any judges, attorneys, mental health professionals, law enforcement, or other community and state leaders who might be interested. To ensure that you regularly receive this letter, please click on the subscribe button at the bottom of this page, if you have not already. 
The Fourth Annual Judicial Summit on Mental Health was held on October 14 and 15, 2021. Nearly 1400 judges and stakeholders attended in person and online. On behalf of the JCMH, I would like to thank everyone who attended and supported this hybrid event. The Summit presentations and resources are now available on the JCMH Summit website.
As 2021 comes to a close and we look toward 2022, I want to share some key ideas to help you continue your work and implement new strategies and practices inspired by the Summit.
Top 10 Takeaways from the 2021 Judicial Summit on Mental Health

1.    Consider the Whole Person. When diverting individuals away from the criminal justice system, strive to understand each person’s past and present circumstances, lived experiences, family background, trauma, and systemic barriers. Build trust by meeting basic needs and connecting them with services. And don’t forget to consider the effects of traumatic stress, or vicarious traumatization, on yourself. Understanding and addressing secondary trauma will build resiliency and prevent burnout, allowing you to do your best work.

2.   Outcomes are Tied to Environments. Increase the resiliency of your community by recognizing Adverse Community Environments in your area and working to change them. Connect systems and policies to community characteristics and population health outcomes. The “Pair of ACEs” – meaning adverse community environments and adverse childhood experiences – plays a key role in how a person bounces back from adversity.
3.     Assisted Outpatient Treatment, a proven best practice, allows individuals with severe mental illness to receive treatment in the community. The “Black Robe Effect” is the heart of an AOT program and uses the influence of a caring judge to promote treatment engagement, compliance and treatment outcomes. Personal connection with a judge is an opportunity for marginalized individuals to be heard, to feel important, and to heal trauma from prior interactions with the justice system.

4.   Risk Assessments Make a Difference. By using a validated Risk-Need-Responsivity assessment and individualizing services, people can be successful on supervision. People who are identified as having low risk to reoffend and low needs should be diverted from the system so that resources are used by people who are identified as having moderate or high risk and needs.

5.     Individuals with IDD are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and have distinct challenges, which require dedicated time, training, and resources. The Local Intellectual and Developmental Authority, or LIDDA, is the front door to services for in-home and out-of-home crisis intervention, outpatient care and transition support teams.

6.     Youth Interventions Take Many Forms. Local Mental Health and Behavioral Health Authorities (LMHAs/LBHAs) offer crisis services and access to specialized care; the Residential Treatment Center Project provides intensive mental health care in a residential setting; Coordinated Specialty Care serves adolescents and young adults experiencing their first episode of psychosis; and YES Waiver provides intense community-based services to children and youth with serious mental, emotional and behavioral needs.
7.    Use Resources for Veterans. The Veterans Reentry Search Service (VRSS) enables those who work in criminal justice to identify inmates or defendants who have served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs makes this service available as outreach to veterans, and to inform the development of veteran-specific programs in the criminal justice system. Using this program can help veterans in the system find each other, and potentially uncover new services or resources.

8.     Competency Restoration is Not Mental Health Treatment. When possible, and especially for low-level offenses, consider alternatives such as diversion or dismissal with connections to services, as competency restoration in misdemeanor cases backlogs the system and further extends the waitlist length. Through collaboration and a concerted effort to work on the problems “upstream” from competency services, we can decrease the waitlist and prevent more individuals from waiting for competency restoration services. Get your Eliminate the Wait toolkit here.
9.    Go Local and Start a Mental Health Court or Docket. New training or collaborative programs don’t have to be expensive. Many experts are willing to share their knowledge and resources if you ask. In return, think about what expertise you can share with others. Program evaluations don’t have to be complicated.
10.   Be bold. Rather than doing business “the way it has always been done,” challenge the system, adjust programs and policies to accomplish stated goals, and act with purpose to solve the real problem. Breaking down the silos between organizations and professions creates a more efficient and successful system.
Texas Mental Health and
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Law Bench Books

In conjunction with the Summit, the JCMH released the third edition of its Bench Book and the second edition of its Juvenile Bench Book. The third edition of the Bench Book includes Intercepts 4 and 5, Re-entry and Community Corrections, as well as new sections devoted to Insanity, Risk Assessments, and Expunctions/Non-Disclosures. The second edition of the Juvenile Bench Book added a detailed section on Lack of Responsibility. 

A limited amount of bench books are still available. To request a copy of either book, send an email to [email protected]. The bench books will be available in digital form on the JCMH website in early 2022. Thank you to the many contributing authors and editors from across the state of Texas for creating these valuable resources!
The JCMH is thankful for all the support and leadership that made our work possible. I wish you all a happy holiday season!

John J. Specia, Jr. (Ret.)
Jurist in Residence
To receive the JIR Resource Letter and other special announcements, link below:
Judicial Commission on Mental Health | TexasJCMH.gov