In Texas juvenile detention facilities, the rate of mental illness now exceeds the rates of those affiliated with a gang, according to an Associated Press analysis. Substance abuse and dependency are particularly rampant, affecting almost 1,100 of the current 1,411 inmates. The Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s director said last month that the percentage of mentally ill incarcerated youths spiked from 39 percent in 2007 to 56 percent in 2013, demonstrating that the problem of criminalizing mental health problems is not isolated to adult jails and prisons.
There are now 18 proposals before the Texas legislature that would play a role in rolling back the criminalization of school disciplinary infractions as minor as gum-chewing and truancy – a national phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Reforms would also include funneling students with substance abuse and other undiagnosed mental health problems into counseling rather than the criminal justice system.