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DAUGAARD: Mental health reforms start to pay off
The Rapid City Journal - 5/26/2018
In the late 19th century, Dr. Leonard Mead served as the superintendent of South Dakota's hospital for the mentally ill. Dr. Mead was known for treating his patients with dignity and he had a kind of compassion that wasn't common enough for the time. He could recite the medical history and condition of each of his patients, and he designed the facilities and grounds to be safe and serene.
South Dakota made strides under Dr. Mead's leadership and, we have made many more since his time. We've seen progress in diagnoses, in treatments and, more recently, in how people with mental illness are treated when they enter the justice system.
This recent progress is thanks to Chief Justice David Gilbertson's task force on mental health. In 2017, the group brought a proposal that I signed into law which made a number of reforms to improve the identification and treatment of people with mental illness involved with the criminal justice system.
Prior to this reform, counties sent defendants to the Human Services Center in Yankton to receive competency evaluations, which are necessary to determine whether a person has the mental capacity to stand trial. Those evaluations cost $3,333 each, and because of the high demand, defendants often waited four months to be evaluated.
The chief justice's reform expanded the types of professionals who can conduct evaluations and dedicated $125,000 to reimburse counties to conduct competency evaluations locally. Now the average wait time is down to 30 days and, based on the claims submitted for reimbursement thus far, the average cost has fallen to less than $1,000.
Progress is being made on other fronts. The Unified Judicial System, the State Bar and multiple state agencies are working together to roll out training for attorneys, law enforcement, first responders and other professionals within the criminal justice system who may encounter persons with mental health issues. Additionally, the Law Enforcement Standards and Training Commission will hire a crisis intervention training coordinator to promote and implement mental health crisis intervention processes within local communities in the state. The goal is for the criminal justice system to identify and treat mental health issues earlier. This is better for the person with mental illness, and it can also avoid costs for counties and for the state.
I am encouraged by the successes we are seeing from these reforms. Though it is still early and the law has yet to be fully implemented, the policies are beginning to work as intended.
Still, more can be done, and I am glad the conversation on mental health continues. It won't be just one law or one administration, legislature, chief justice, or state hospital superintendent that perfects our system. Rather, it will require the sustained effort of many over a long period of time. In the spirit of Dr. Mead, I hope future leaders will contribute all they can in their times.