Liberty County Probation Breaks Ground iin Mental Health Care

LIBERTY May 24, 2018 ⎯ For nearly five years, the Liberty-Chambers Counties Adult Probation Department has operated two specialized mental health caseloads. 

Chief Probation Officer Steve Swan recognized a need to deal with a rapidly growing population of offenders suffering from a variety of mental health conditions when he returned from a brief retirement in 2013.

That same year, a grant application was submitted to and funded by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the two specialized mental health caseloads. Shortly thereafter, a cooperative agreement was established with Tri-County Behavioral Health Care.  Tri-County provides a qualified mental health professional who works in conjunction with the probation department staff to supervise those deemed eligible to participate in the program. 

The program targets mostly felony offenders and is designed to work with mental health conditions including Major Depressive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizoaffective Disorder including Bipolar, Psychotic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Delusional Disorder, and other diagnosed mental health disorders severe or persistent in nature.  

Chief Probation Officer Steve Swan said, "In 45 years of experience as Chief Probation Officer, I have not seen a program more successful or needed than these mental health caseloads.”

Offenders are supervised by a probation officer with specialized mental health training, along with a mental health counselor and an appointed psychologist or psychiatrist employed by Tri County. “Offenders receive much needed treatment, medicines, and counseling they would not receive without this program,” Swan said. “They largely stay out of trouble and are able to lead much fuller, crime-free lives in the community while under this program."

The program is partially funded by The Texas Correctional Office on Offenders With Medical or Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI).  All costs of treatment and supervising the offender, including medicines, are paid by TCOOMMI and is of no cost to Liberty or Chambers County, or the offender.  Often times, offenders suffer from severe, debilitating mental health conditions, but cannot afford counseling, treatment, or the expensive psychotropic medications needed to treat their conditions.

The principle behind the program is that it is much more cost effective to treat the offenders in the community, rather than revoke their probation and send them to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  By being proactive and helping offenders to treat, cope and live with sometimes severe mental health conditions, the department is successfully supervising these offenders within the community.  “The cost of the program is much less than housing them in a prison cell without effective treatment,” Swan said.

Since the inception of the program, the department has successfully supervised many felony offenders with very few subsequent violations of probation resulting in their being sentenced to the Texas Department of Corrections.

At present, there are in excess of 46 offenders under the two caseloads receiving not only probation supervision, but also mental health treatment through Tri-County on the TCOOMMI cases, or other mental health providers for less severe cases. The Department is currently working toward a similar agreement with Spindletop MHMR to provide the same type of supervision utilizing TCOOMMI funds for more offenders.

The program is presently staffed by Viviann Boyer, Bachelor in Psychology, Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, Intern, and Jason Jones, Bachelor in General Studies with a Minor in Criminal Justice, both employed as probation officers with the Liberty-Chambers County Adult Probation Department. The officers and program is supervised and coordinated by Unit Supervisor, Diane Manek and Chief Probation Officer Steve Swan.  Makesha Givs, Doctorate of Education Degree, Counselor Education, is the Qualified Mental Health Professional that serves our department thru Tri-County and TCOOMMI.

Probation officers currently travel between Anahuac, Liberty and Cleveland to supervise offenders in the program.  They meet with offenders in the office two times per month, and also make regular home visits to monitor mental health.  The offenders are monitored by monthly collateral contacts, urinalysis testing, medication compliance, and progress in treatment with their mental health provider. Officers maintain active and close supervision of the offenders, normally visiting several times per month.

Programs of this nature are generally operated in much larger jurisdictions such as Harris County, Jefferson County and Montgomery County.  Liberty County is fortunate to receive funding to operate this highly successful program.  It is currently the only program in this jurisdiction designed to deal with mental health offenders through treatment, as opposed to incarceration without treatment. Chambers County has successfully implemented a similarly designed program through the Chambers County Sheriff Department, where a deputy is teamed with a mental health professional in working with offenders that suffer with mental illness.

This program enables offenders to lead relatively normal lives, and has already proven they are less likely to become involved with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.  The Liberty-Chambers County Adult Probation Department is proud to make the leap into proper treatment of mental health conditions – for local offenders and the community. 

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