Where are Minnesotans with mental illnesses going? Increasingly, to jail

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Minnesota's prisons and jails are having a hard time managing the growing proportion of inmates who have mental illnesses, law enforcement officers told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports the Judiciary Committee hearing was chaired by Sen. Barb Goodwin, who says a few decades ago 5 percent of those behind bars in the state had mental illnesses. Now Goodwin says estimates range from 30 to 50 percent.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rick Stanek was among those who testified that offenders are not getting the mental health treatment they need in jail and pose a risk to other inmates and to jailers, the AP reports.

Also testifying was the leader of Minnesota's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That group's suggestions for how to address the problem have not changed very much since their 2006 report on how the state's jails are responding to mentally ill offenders.

According to the AP story, the recommendations mentioned Tuesday include: more training for law enforcement, establishing mental health courts, allowing inmates to take psychotropic drugs in jail, and better housing and transition programs for mentally ill people coming out of jail.

This fall Minnesota Public Radio took a closer look at the Corrections Department's report of a gender gap among inmates getting mental health treatment. While 65 percent of the women in prison were using mental health services, only 25 percent of men were, the department said.

An assistant commissioner with the department told MPR men in prison typically don't want to admit weakness or be seen as vulnerable.

Sen. Goodwin tells the Associated Press addressing the issue of mental illness among inmates will take years and she plans to introduce legislation in the 2014 session that would get it started.

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