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Juveniles with mental illnesses belong in treatment, not prison

We recently discussed in a blog post concerns related to the notion that Minnesota jails and prisons are becoming holding pens for individuals in desperate need of serious psychiatric and medical care. Just this week, a news story provided details about a 17-year-old Minnesota teen's plans to shoot and kill his entire family and then continue his murderous rampage at a school.

The 17-year-old's plans were thankfully discovered before he could take action. Yet, despite obvious signs of mental illness, he was arrested and is being held at a juvenile detention center. He currently faces serious felony charges related to premeditated murder and possessing a bomb. It's likely he will spend several years or his entire life locked away and forgotten in a prison cell rather than receive the help he desperately needs.

For this young man, there may still be hope. A new Minnesota law that offers incarcerated individuals believed to suffer a mental illness a chance at receiving psychiatric help goes into effect on Aug. 1. The bi-partisan supported law provides a two-step process for assessing whether an individual meets criteria that would officially designate that individual as suffering a mentally illness and therefore incompetent to stand trial.

In cases where an individual is determined to be incompetent, he or she would go through a separate screening process before being transferred to a mental health facility rather than a prison cell. Supporters of the new law and mental health screening process, contend time is of the essence when it comes to diagnosing a mental disorder and providing an individual with the appropriate and necessary treatment and care. They are hopeful this new law will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders prior to any crimes or the destruction of lives occurring.

Source: Star Tribune, "New Minnesota law will get mentally ill out of jails, into treatment faster," Abby Simons, May 1, 2014Star Tribune, "Charges: Waseca teen hoped to kill 'as many students as he could'," Pat Pheifer, May 1, 2014

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