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National Mental Health Month, May 2009

Positive mental health practices part of routine TDCJ business

By: Oliver J. Bell, Chairman

portrait of Oliver Bell
Oliver J. Bell
May was National Mental Health Month. Promoting positive mental health practices is important - so much so that it should not be restricted to just one month, but instead should be an ongoing activity throughout the year. With that noted, the agency’s leadership will be incorporating the promotion of positive mental health practices into its routine business for months to come.

As the promotion of positive mental health practices within TDCJ has two venues – the employees and the offenders - the agency plans to campaign in two different but complementary strategies.

For the employees, working in the correctional and criminal justice arenas can be highly stressful and taxing. Inasmuch, it is imperative for TDCJ employees to learn to address problems and maintain their mental well-being. To help, the agency will be implementing a variety of techniques. To begin, human resource personnel will distribute information to employees each month regarding stress reduction, healthy habits for physical and mental well-being and related information. In addition, TDCJ will begin working on incorporating mental health information in the pre-service and in-service training routinely provided to agency employees.

Another goal will be to educate all staff about mental health issues and ways to obtain assistance if needed. It is without question that in today’s world, jobs, lifestyles, family issues and other stressors can and do have an impact on mental health status. Just as we promote physical well-being through diet and exercise, we need to promote mental health well-being. Through this initiative, suggestions on doing so will be disseminated to agency staff.
The second strategy will focus on TDCJ offenders who have a serious mental illness. No one who has worked on an institutional unit or supervised probationers or parolees would be surprised to learn that about 18 percent of the agency’s offender population consists of former or current clients of the public mental health system. Offenders with mental illnesses present unique challenges, and TDCJ has responded with unique supervision and treatment models.

The TDCJ Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI) was created by the legislature in 1989. TCOOMMI’s main purpose is to ensure statewide and local collaboration among the juvenile and adult justice systems, health and human services and other governmental entities. During the last 21 years, several policy initiatives enacted through legislative actions have allowed TCOOMMI and Texas to make a positive impact on the service delivery system for juvenile and adult offenders with special needs.

To deliver the services within TDCJ, the Community Justice Assistance Division, the Correctional Institutions Division and the Parole Division work closely with TCOOMMI to develop specialized supervision and treatment programs and create cross-training opportunities. As a testament to their efforts, the offenders involved in TCOOMMI treatment programs, under the supervision of probation or parole officers, recently reported a 3-year recidivism rate of 15.4 percent. Taking into consideration that research has demonstrated that mentally ill populations consistently have the highest re-arrest and re-incarceration rates in the country, this is truly remarkable.

Working with offenders with mental illness can be extremely difficult, and it takes a special dedication. The employees serving in those positions within this agency continue to do an outstanding job, and on behalf of the Board of Criminal Justice, I commend them for their role in ensuring public safety.

To continue the spirit of promoting positive mental health practices throughout the year, a new annual award from the board will be created. This award will acknowledge the significant contributions of an individual or group in the field of mental health as it relates to either TDCJ employees or offenders under the agency’s supervision.

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