Judge Who Sentenced Killed Inmate Speaks Out

Judge Stephen Manley says society jails too many of its mentally ill

When Michael Tyree died in a Santa Clara County jail, he had already completed a five day sentence for a minor misdemeanor charge. The judge who sentenced him, Stephen Manley of Santa Clara’s Mental Health Court sat down with Senior Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock for an exclusive interview.

Three correctional officers have already been arrested for alleged murder of Michael Tyree. Judge Manley would not speak in any way about Michael Tyree’s specific case, but the veteran judge did say that the system must change.

He said inmates like Tyree should be treated, not warehoused in jail.

“It’s very serious,” said Manley, “I think we’re at a critical time.”

Manley has presided over a special court that rules on low-level criminal offenses by defendants who are mentally ill. He has served in this court for more than 20 years. He told the Investigative Unit that he sees a disturbing trend where more and more defendants wind up in his court when they should be talking to a mental health professional and not a judge.

“The criminal justice system and the courts have become the place to send everyone who is mentally ill as opposed to keeping them in treatment and in the community," said Manley. "And as a result, we are at a point where the courts are not able to absorb more and more offenders and not have treatments for them.”

“I don’t think we’re doing enough,” said Manley. “I don’t think any county or state is.”

Manley was one of the last people outside of Santa Clara Jail to see Michael Tyree alive. He sentenced him to five days for a misdemeanor charge and gave him credit for time served. On the day Tyree died, he had finished his sentenced time but was waiting to be transferred to a residential mental health facility.

"We have waiting lists of individuals that I've ordered released from jail to go into treatment," said Manley. "It's not an issue of punishment. The punishment is over. And when I ordered them released there's nowhere to go but the streets. And they end up in this revolving cycle and then going through emergency room doors. This goes on again and again."

This afternoon Manley testified before the mental health steering committee of Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors. He recommended increasing spending on mental health issues.

Manley's Mental Health Court is one of the most unique in the country for its signature attention to rehabilitation. But the issue of the mentally ill in jail is hardly unique to Santa Clara County. California's prisons have almost doubled since 2000. A report from the Treatment Advocacy Center shows that the mentally ill are more likely to be in California jails than in hospitals.

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