A 16-year-old former juvenile detainee in Texas is accused of stabbing a high school teacher to death with a butcher knife. Another teen was convicted of killing a roofer in a 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 Associated Press reports 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 of Advocacy Inc., which 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. 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. “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.