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Loophole Lets Mentally Ill Texas Juveniles Go Free

The AP via YellowBrix

December 22, 2009

TYLER, Texas — A 16-year-old former juvenile detainee is accused of stabbing a high school teacher to death with a butcher knife. Another teen was convicted of killing a roofer during a 30-minute robbery spree.

Both were released by the Texas Youth Commission because the agency wasn’t equipped to treat their mental illnesses and had to let them go under the law.

The cases highlight what some juvenile justice experts say is a loophole in the way Texas treats underage offenders with severe psychiatric issues. Data obtained by The Associated Press reveal that the commission has released more than 200 offenders because of mental health issues in the last five years and that more than one-fifth went on to commit new crimes, some of them violent.

“All these cases are failures where we should have done something different,” said Richard Lavallo, legal director of Advocacy Inc., an Austin organization that helps children with disabilities.

In most states, youthful offenders aren’t discharged from custody because of mental illness unless they are being committed to hospitals.

But under a 1997 law meant to keep mentally ill juveniles from being held in detention centers where they can’t get proper treatment, Texas youths serving indeterminate sentences who have completed their minimum required time in custody are released to their parents or guardians.

While some experts said Texas should be commended for not warehousing such offenders where they can’t get treatment, they questioned the logic of releasing them without ensuring they receive supervision.

“Without some requirement for supervision, it doesn’t seem like a sound policy to me,” said Gail Wasserman, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and the director of its Center for the Promotion of Mental Health in Juvenile Justice.

The issue gained notoriety in September with the fatal stabbing of a 50-year-old special education teacher at John Tyler High School in Tyler. The teacher, Todd Henry, was sitting at his desk in his classroom when he was attacked.

The Texas Youth Commission discharged the boy accused of killing Henry in July because he had been diagnosed with multiple mental health issues, including schizophrenia, according to his attorney, Jim Huggler. The teen, who the AP is not identifying because he is a juvenile and has not been charged as an adult, had been committed in 2007 for aggravated assault.

Huggler said he had seen nothing to indicate the boy’s family, which had relocated to Tyler from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, had received a plan from state or local officials on how to deal with his mental problems.

“This case is sad on so many levels,” he said.

  • Bmg_logo_100x100_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I agree with Jonas... If they are killing teachers, then soon they will be killing cops.....

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    over 4 years ago


    Hope this situation is rectified, and quickly !! My worst fear about this is that someone else will have to die at the hands of one of these kids before action is taken. Amerca is quick to lock the barn door after the horse has been stolen; if you need an example of this, just remember 9/11.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    This is a loop hole that will hoefully be looked into within the state legislature. These kids are certainly not getting the help that they need and when violent crimes take place, the public as a whole is put in danger!

  • Ba_old_glory_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Let's just hope no one goes from teacher stabbing to Cop killing.

  • Image_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I hope they fix this loop hole. These kids should not be out period.

  • Tigerstripe_002_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Lol Dallascrane, yea that is.. Just..nuts. "Here kid go home. All I can do is suggest you stay out of trouble by not stabbing any more school teachers ok? Go on squirt. "

  • Tigerstripe_002_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I suddenly dont feel so safe. I drive through tyler from time to time. This is Texas, shouldn't that murderer be tried as an adult and be on death row. This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy. When are people going to vote to close this loophole?

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago

    I agree with Irishcop.

  • Untitledma28839986-0002_max50


    over 4 years ago


    What a mess this is. Hopw they fix the loophole real quick.

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    THE message in incredibly bad. We can't treat a juvenile we let them go with voluntary suggestions how to improve their life. Mandatory help might make a difference. But releasing the child to a dysfunctional family that will not seek help and has not looked for help previously is nuts.

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