Travis Co. mental health docket handles 5,000th case

The Travis County District Attorney's is working to connect criminals with mental illness to community resources. In 2009, the mental health docket started and recently reached a milestone in February.

Many of the criminal cases involving mental illness end up on Michelle Hallee's desk. "A lot of the people we deal with on the mental health docket it is a revolving door and they are in and out of jail," said Hallee who took over the docket a few months after its inception.

She's an assistant district attorney in charge of strategic prosecutions. "The mental health docket focuses on the defendant's underlying mental health and substance abuse needs. We try to address those issues in hopes that it will keep them out of the criminal justice system," said Hallee.

Since the beginning her case load has only grown. In 2014, Hallee had 503 defendants with 779 cases. Most involve drugs or shoplifting but the docket sees all types of cases. Some that are referred to Hallee get sent back to trial court.

The docket focuses on treatment and connects those charged with crimes to community resources. Many of the people who come into court are often homeless.

"Whether I'm putting them on probation or giving them time served with services on the back end it works," she said.

Measuring success isn't always black and white. "You have to define success. It isn't a zero recidivism rate. People think we fix them and they never come back. Sometimes success is that they spent more time out of here," Hallee explained.

By reducing jail bed days and getting people connected with resources Hallee says it saves Travis County money.

Her hope is they get the help they need and she doesn't see them in court again.