U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., met with mental health advocates, state officials and members of law enforcement on Saturday to discuss better ways to help people with mental illness stay out of the criminal justice system.
The meeting, at the St. Paul offices of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, was organized by Franken, who plans to introduce a bill that will expand funding for crisis intervention teams, mental health courts and law enforcement training. He co-wrote the bill with Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla.
Franken said it's important to address mental illness in the criminal justice system, especially after the December murders of 20 children and six adults by a gunman at a Connecticut school.
"In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, we heard a lot of people talk about mental health," he said. "But in some ways, I felt it was unfortunately just kind of a talking point."
Franken said that addressing the problem may save money in the long run. But in order for reform to work, he said, government agencies, law enforcement and nonprofits must work together.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who attended the meeting, said mental illness is an issue in the criminal justice system that has long gone unaddressed.
"Our jails have become that place in which those with mental illness wait," Stanek said. "It's an endless cycle. We want to work with the senator to end that, to find some other options available to these folks to get them to treatment."
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