SD will tackle mental health and justice

PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA TV) – The South Dakota task force studying mental health and criminal justice submitted a report to the governor with 15 recommendations for dealing with mentally ill people in the justice system.

The task force’s list of recommendations includes:
• Expanding crisis intervention team training;
• Establishing a grant program for counties and regions to set up crisis response options;
• Identifying mental illness through timely mental health screenings;
• Providing training to criminal justice stakeholders on options to de-escalate crises and divert people safely into treatment in the community;
• Piloting a mental health court in Pennington County; and
• Expediting completion of court-ordered competency evaluations.

The full report is available at: https://mentalillnesscommunityjustice.sd.gov/.

“Through our research we learned that diversion options are limited to certain geographic areas and there is a lack of procedures for early identification of mental illness,” Chief Justice David Gilbertson said. “We also found that people with signs of mental illness were more likely to be detained pretrial and to spend more time in detention.”

The task force met eight times to review state laws, requirements for mental illness evaluations, court and jail data, and input from more than 100 stakeholders statewide. The group surveyed 24 jails and found the majority of surveyed jails had no access to a staff or contracted psychiatrist and little to no access to other mental health staff.

“South Dakota can do better,” Gilbertson said. “The recommendations of the task force represent common sense approaches to move us in the right direction. That should not only reduce the time these individuals spend in the criminal justice system, it will save the taxpayers considerable tax dollars in the running of the jails.”

The recommendations will be considered by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Legislature during the 2017 session.