Critics call for end to South Dakota mental holds in jail
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Young people and adults who have mental disorders should not be thrown in jails when they are suffering a mental crisis and the South Dakota law that allows the practice should be overturned, policy advisers and jail officials say.
South Dakota is among five states, including North Dakota, which allows involuntary mental health holds in jails and juvenile detention centers for up to 24 hours, the Argus Leader reported. But critics say that allowing involuntary mental health holds in jails and juvenile detention centers can traumatize a person who has been diagnosed with a mental illness and could be unconstitutional.
“If you look at it from a strictly medical perspective, being in a jail setting is almost guaranteed to make somebody’s mental health crisis worse, not better,” said Lisa Dailey, legislative and policy counsel for the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that surveys and ranks states for their mental health policies. “It’s the worst possible thing you could do.”
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem agrees the law should be repealed.
“They’re not criminals,” Noem said. “They’re having a crisis at a point in time when they need to be observed, but unfortunately in a lot of communities, that’s the only option that folks have.”
Courtney Bowie, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, said putting the mentally ill in jail, with no criminal charge, is a potential violation of rights granted under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
James Gravett, Minnehaha County’s Juvenile Court director, said young people on involuntary mental health holds in juvenile detention are locked in a room with just a mattress, sometimes secured in a suicide vest. He said this should never happen and that those youths should be placed in facilities designed to treat mental health trauma, such as Avera Behavioral Health.
Avera is the lone Sioux Falls provider of emergency inpatient mental health care. The amount of involuntary holds authorized by Avera staff has progressively increased in the last few years. The behavior hospital accepted 1,500 holds in 2016. It took around 2,100 holds last year. Others are sent to jail.
South Dakota lawmakers have assembled task forces to consider the state’s mental health care resources and have passed a resolution to create five more with the goal of completing in-depth studies of specific mental health services by the end of 2019.