State judicial system announces mental health, criminal justice task force

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The South Dakota Unified Judicial System announced the members of a newly-formed task force Wednesday, focused on mental health and the criminal justice system.

As part of House Bill 1183, the oversight council is tasked with monitoring and reporting the impact that changes in the state criminal justice system have on people battling mental illness. The absence of long-term mental healthcare options in western South Dakota — particularly after Regional Health changed its health care options earlier this year — has prompted community leaders to evaluate and determine how to improve healthcare options for people battling mental illness.

READ MORE: West River Behavioral Health Alliance seeks mental health care solutions

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom says people battling mental illness should not be treated as if they broke the law.

"People have a mental health issue and we criminalize that," Thom said. "We should be digging deeper and looking at the causes. Sometimes, you have co-occurring disorders. You can have a developmental disability along with a mental health issue. You can have a substance abuse issue along with a mental health issue. And so you need to dig a little deeper and figure out, is there a better way to deal with that individual rather than through the criminal justice system?"

While the 14-member council includes bipartisan leadership, most council appointees work in eastern South Dakota.

State Senator Alan Solano (R-Rapid City) is the only member working on the western part of the state, despite the lack of mental health resources on this side of the Missouri River. In addition to state government, he’s also the CEO of Rapid City-based Behavioral Management Systems, Inc.

Still, Thom and Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris both said they have the utmost confidence in Solano's ability to advocate for western South Dakota.

The council was created from appointments by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Chief Justice David Gilbertson, State Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd, State House of Representatives Leader Lee Qualm and Attorney General Marty Jackley.

Daugaard selected AJ Franken, general counsel for the governor’s office; Mike Milstead, Minnehaha County sheriff; Amy Iverson-Pollreisz, deputy secretary of the Department of Social Services; and Terry Dosch, executive director of the Council of Mental Health Centers, Inc.

Gilbertson appointed Carmen Means, a third circuit court judge; Cindy Heiberger, Minnehaha County commissioner; Mike Miller, Minnehaha County public defender; and Greg Sattizahn, the state’s court administrator.

State senator Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) is also on the council, appointed by Curd - as was Solano. Qualm chose State Reps. Dan Ahlers (D-Dell Rapids) and Leslie Heinemann (R-Flandreau).

Jackley’s selections are Dr. Thomas Stange, Ph.D., from Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health Services, Inc., in Yankton; and Chris White, Brown County’s state’s attorney.     

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