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MN Officials Seek Aid For Mentally Ill in Jail

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It’s become a refrain among those in the criminal justice system, and it was repeated again Thursday by law enforcement authorities from Ramsey and Hennepin counties in the Twin Cities area, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said it. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi essentially said the same thing, as did Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal. The problem is repeat offenders. It has overcrowded jails and prisons and presented limited or bad options for police and deputies who come across people who struggle with mental health issues, addiction or both.

At a press conference Thursday, authorities sought to remind the public that they need resources and help from state lawmakers and other sectors to better deal with the problem. The press conference was convened after prosecutors and law enforcement officers from the two counties met with Ronal Serpas to talk about what they see as a nationwide problem. Serpas, a former police chief in New Orleans and Nashville, founded the organization Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration. Stanek estimated 52 percent of Hennepin County jail inmates suffer from some form of mental illness. In Ramsey County, the figure hovers around 27 percent, but many inmates may be undiagnosed, says the Ramsey County sheriff. Incarcerating people who suffer from mental health issues as their root problem does little to benefit public safety, officials said. Hennepin County may build a 140- to 150-bed facility at its workhouse that would offer interim treatment for people with mental health or addiction issues. Ramsey County has the same needs, Choi said, adding, “We  keep doing the same thing but expecting different results. That’s the definition of insanity.”

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