Hennepin survey shows link between jail inmates and mental illness

In the last session of the Legislature, a bill to provide more training to police in dealing with the mentally ill went nowhere. Having passed the Senate, it was denied a hearing by a former police officer who serves as chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the criminal justice system and the mental health system are joined at the hip. Or at least should be.

This afternoon, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek released a study showing half of the inmates at the Hennepin County jail would benefit from or are in need of mental health services.

The jail’s medical staff performed a one-day “snapshot” with full medical assessments for 640 of the 680 inmates in the Jail on July 27, 2016, according to a press release.

The analysis showed that 52 percent of the inmates had confirmed indicators or met other criteria associated with mental illness. Thirty-six percent of the inmates had a confirmed mental health diagnosis or concern in the jail’s intake health assessment, or had confirmed prescriptions for Neuroleptic medications. An additional 16 percent of the inmates displayed behaviors associated with serious mental illness or had a significant history connected to mental illness.

“This new information is solid evidence that our jails continue to serve as the largest mental health facilities in the State. Previous estimates of one-quarter (1/4) to one-third (1/3) were based solely upon inmates who self-identified during a brief health screening process performed by Sheriff’s deputies,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. “Now that we have better information about the extent of mental illness among jail inmates, we can begin working on better ways to provide the services they need and deserve.”

“Everyone has recognized this as an issue for some time and these numbers confirm the severity of the problem. We need expanded Crisis Intervention Training for police and jail alternatives for the mentally ill that are proven to work as part of the solution,” County Commissioner Jeff Johnson said.

Last spring, the Office of the Legislative Auditor found at least 18 percent of those who received publicly funded mental illness treatment in the state had an arrest in 2013 or 2014, and at least 10 percent had a conviction in those years.

It estimated a third of inmates at Minnesota jails were on some medication for mental illness.