Mental Health

Mental illness intersects with the legal system in range of situations in Texas, including civil commitments, criminal prosecutions, and detention and removal proceedings in our immigration system. Texas Appleseed is committed to working on reforms and formulating policies to protect and benefit those with mental illness.

Our work on the Mental Health Code focuses on reforms to civil commitments, or court-ordered mental health treatment. In highlighting needed revisions to the law, Texas Appleseed documented ways to improve the process, thereby, protecting the safety of the community and the rights of the individual.

Texas Appleseed is also working on forensic commitment reform to divert defendants with mental illness from the criminal justice system to the civil system and/or outpatient settings. Many of these individuals could benefit from alternative treatments — such as outpatient treatment from a doctor or inpatient treatment in a less-restrictive facility — rather than hospitalization. The benefits of these alternatives include lower costs, reduced likelihood of recidivism, and better-supported transition into the community.

Our immigration project focuses on addressing the conditions faced by detainees with mental illnesses in detention facilities, deportation proceedings, and post-release planning. Our work on detention conditions includes monitoring the mental health screening process, as well as monitoring treatment in the facilities. Our review of the removal process focuses on the procedural protections for detainees who are unable to represent themselves due to mental illness. We are looking at post-release planning for those who will need treatment in their community (in the case of release) or country of origin (in the case of removal).


  • Updated Mental Health Handbook Released. The fourth edition of Mental Illness, Your Client, and the Criminal Law: A Handbook for Attorneys Who Represent Persons with Mental Illnesss is available. February 2015
  • Texas Appleseed’s efforts to help update laws to the Mental Health Code, based on our report, Recommendations for Updating the Texas Mental Health Code, served as a guideline in the 2013 legislative session, which passed several bills to bring the law into line with current best practices.
  • Texas Appleseed helped bring to light a serious issue of how those with mental health issues were treated in the immigration detention system, with our report Justice for Immigration’s Hidden Population. Our report was used in a successful lawsuit that has improved the government’s handling of cases of those with mental health issues. It was also used to train hundreds of immigration attorneys on representing those with mental illness.
  • Our handbooks for attorneys and defendants with mental health issues have been used by hundreds of individuals to improve their representation in criminal cases.
  • Our effort to assure best practices in representing defendants with mental health issues has helped create 10 Mental Health Public Defender Offices in Texas.


Read personal stories about our work »