ARLINGTON, Va., July 22, 2016 — The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and NAMI Greater Houston have issued a letter to The Honorable Devon Anderson, Harris County District Attorney in Texas, calling for an immediate and thorough independent investigation of the egregious treatment of “Jane Doe,” a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was the victim of an aggravated rape. Ms. Doe was jailed for 28 days in general population at the Harris County Jail because of concerns that she would not appear to testify against her rapist.
The full text of the letter follows:
July 22, 2016
The Honorable Devon Anderson
Harris County District Attorney
1201 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77002-1923
Dear District Attorney Anderson,
We are writing on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and NAMI Greater Houston to express our grave concerns and call for an independent investigation regarding the treatment by your office of “Jane Doe,” a woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was the victim of an aggravated rape. As you know, Ms. Doe was jailed for 28 days in general population at the Harris County Jail because of concerns that she would not appear to testify against her rapist.
The alleged facts of this case are appalling. While testifying in court about the traumatic details of being violently choked and raped, Ms. Doe became overwhelmed, started crying, and ran from the courtroom and into traffic. She was subsequently involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital to stabilize her mental health condition. Instead of providing her with follow-up mental health care after she was discharged from the hospital, the decision was made, apparently by your office, to incarcerate her in the Harris County Jail where she remained for 28 days.
Making matters worse, Ms. Doe was placed in the general population in the Harris County jail, where she reportedly received no mental health care. This, despite the fact that the jail has a mental health unit for treating incarcerated individuals with mental illness. While in general population, she was severely assaulted by a fellow inmate and punched in the face by a correctional officer.
On July 21, you released a video statement in which you justified placing Ms. Doe in jail, stating that this was in the best interests both of Ms. Doe and the general public. In your statement, you asked “how were we to assure that a homeless, mentally ill victim of an aggravated sex assault would return to testify at the trial of her rapist when that victim was going through a life-threatening mental health crisis and had expressed her intention not to testify?”
NAMI is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to individuals with mental illness and their families. We and our Houston affiliate are disappointed that as District Attorney, you made the choice to incarcerate Ms. Doe. It is inexcusable to jail someone experiencing a “life-threatening mental health crisis.” In addition, to expose someone who has been through the profoundly traumatic experience of an aggravated rape and assault by placing her in a situation that is likely to perpetuate further trauma and despair is simply wrong. Would your office have responded the same way to someone who you feared might not be able to return to testify due to heart disease, diabetes or a traumatic brain injury?
At a time when Harris County and the nation as a whole are grappling with how to reduce the numbers of people with serious mental illness who are incarcerated, the placement of a vulnerable young crime victim experiencing a serious mental health crisis in the general population of the jail is difficult to understand. There were many other steps that could have been considered, most notably providing Ms. Doe with mental health services and supports to stabilize her condition.
Moving forward, we call for an immediate and thorough independent investigation of this egregious action that includes a thorough review of alternatives that were available and must be used in the future. We request a meeting with you and your top assistants to discuss steps that will be taken to ensure that situations like this one will not recur.
Thank you for your prompt and urgent attention to this matter.
Mary T. Giliberti, J.D. Glenn Urbach, LMSW
Chief Executive Officer Executive Director
NAMI NAMI Greater Houston