Mental Health Task Force Submits Recommendations To Gov. Daugaard

The South Dakota task force studying mental health and criminal justice today submitted a report with 15 recommendations for consideration by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Legislature. Expanding training and tools for law enforcement, standardizing mental health screenings in jails, and increasing opportunities to divert individuals with mental illness to treatment are among the task force’s recommendations.

Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson convened the 22-member Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention from March through October. With support from the Governor, the Chief Justice established the group to address delays in court-ordered mental health evaluations and shortfalls in treatment for mentally ill individuals within the justice system. The task force consisted of representatives from all three branches of government and local governments, criminal justice officials, and mental health stakeholder groups.

The task force’s work was funded through a $302,500 grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The Crime and Justice Institute at CRJ, which assisted the Governor and Chief Justice with recent adult and juvenile criminal justice reforms, provided technical assistance.

“I thank the Chief Justice and task force members for undertaking this work. Prior to this, we had not had a comprehensive review of the evaluation and treatment of individuals in the criminal justice system who struggle with mental illness,” said Gov. Daugaard. “I will take this report seriously and carefully review each of the recommendations.”

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.

“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. We also found that people with signs of mental illness were more likely to be detained pretrial and to spend more time in detention,” Chief Justice Gilbertson said. “South Dakota can do better. 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 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.

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