Why have Minnesota jails become holding centers for the mentally ill?

A few years ago, deputies at a Minnesota county jail found an inmate hanging by his bed sheets. According to the Star Tribune, the man survived the suicide attempt because the deputies were able to cut him down in time. As a result of the incident, the inmate suffered brain damage, and physicians recommended that he receive intensive therapy for depression. However, a judge ordered him to return to the same jail to complete his sentence.

Any criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis knows that too frequently, jails are holding – and failing – mentally ill prisoners. There is currently an overcrowding issue in jails across the state, and creating better solutions for the mentally ill could help the situation.

The scope of the issue

The Star Tribune released a report stating that roughly 60 percent of detainees in jail are unable to pay the minimum bail for even minor crimes such as public disorder or traffic violations. Intertwined in many of these cases is mental illness.

The National Institute of Corrections states the following regarding the mentally ill in jail:

  • In 2006, there were roughly more than 1.2 million people with mental illness jailed.
  • Researchers have found that the mentally ill are overrepresented in populations of people who are on probation or incarcerated.
  • Inmates who have mental health issues, among other issues, have more difficulty integrating with society than other inmates do upon release.

As a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis may have seen, the Hennepin County sheriff estimates that roughly 30 percent of the people in the state’s largest local jail suffer serious mental problems.

Why it happens

Experts suggest several explanations for why so many people with mental illness wind up in jail as opposed to a treatment program. One cause is that smaller jurisdictions may not have the resources to help these individuals. Another is that for some people with mental disorders, prison is a revolving door. These inmates find themselves in jail over and over again because their underlying issues are never resolved.

A new Minnesota law prohibits a jail from holding someone suffering from mental illness for more than 48 hours. However, the problem remains that these inmates do not have anywhere to go to get the help they need. In other states, there are diversion programs that aim to provide the proper treatment for the mentally ill. However, Minnesota has yet to embrace the model.

A state senator has proposed that Minnesota offer grants to counties for launching diversion programs. Failing to do so will mean that the mentally ill will continue to be stigmatized, arrested and imprisoned. Anyone with questions regarding this matter should consult with a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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