MN Criminalizes the Mentally Ill by Holding Them In Jail for Months


Minneapolis’s Hennepin County jail holds 100 to 200 inmates with severe psychiatric disorders daily, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. That’s one quarter of the jail population, and they languish, on average, for three months before getting proper psychiatric care. Across Minnesota, judges, attorneys and sheriffs cite dozens of similar cases in other jails. They describe a system that, in effect, criminalizes the mentally ill because of backlogs in the state commitment process and a shortage of psychiatric beds. “What you're seeing is people who are mentally ill being labeled as criminals,” said a frustrated County Sheriff Rich Stanek. Confined under harsh and dangerous conditions, many inmates get worse. “Jailing people for their symptoms is a travesty,” says Sue Abderholden of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Not caring enough to do anything about it, which is what we are seeing year after year, is inhumane.” Under a court order, the Minnesota Department of Human Services is trying to reduce the backlogs. Officials admit that the state fails to provide adequate care. The Star Tribune examined records for nearly 100 inmates jailed in Hennepin County between 2010 and early 2013 and evaluated for commitment to state care. There were long delays at every step.

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