A state watchdog committee will oversee the implementation of a new law aimed at reforming the way the criminal justice system deals with those with mental health conditions.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, Attorney General Marty Jackley and legislative majority leaders Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, and Lee Qualm, R-Platte, appointed the 14-member oversight board of legislators, mental health experts and county officials. Those announcements were made public on Wednesday.
The creation of the new panel comes in response to the approval of House Bill 1183, which calls for additional study and reporting of the affects of the criminal justice system on offenders with mental illnesses.
The law is also meant to crack down on months-long wait times for criminal defendants in some county jails. It is also designed to expand crisis intervention training in the state.
Some of the members on the oversight council sat on the chief justice’s original mental health task force that was created after an Argus Leader investigation found South Dakota routinely jails mentally ill defendants for a year or more without trial because of a backlog of court-ordered mental health exams in the state.
The state’s court system saw 147 request for mental competency exams in fiscal year 2015. The state’s mental hospital at that time only conducted 36 exams per year.
Minnehaha County Commissioner Cindy Heiberger was among those who served on the chief justice’s task force. She said the new committee will be asked to monitor the success of the law as it takes effect.
“We will be watching to see if there needs to be tweaks and be the advisers on that,” Heiberger said.
Phyllis Arends, executive director of the Sioux Falls chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she was happy to see that state officials have moved forward with the implementation of the oversight council, but wished more mental health experts had been appointed.
"I've harped for year that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is where the rubber hits the road," Arends said. "We can tell you if it's working or not."
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