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Sheriff: More psychiatric bed space needed so mentally ill don't sit in jail

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Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek
At a press conference on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek speaks to the press.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2014

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek says state officials need to make more psychiatric bed space available so that people with severe mental illness don't have to be held in county jails.  

State law requires that if a judge deems an inmate to be mentally ill then that inmate must be moved from jail to a psychiatric bed within 48 hours. But Stanek said many people who should be getting treatment for serious mental health problems are instead sitting in jail.

Stanek said the bed shortage has been a problem for years and that not enough is being done to address it.

  "There are dozens and dozens of men and women who suffer from severe mental illness who are being jailed and sit in jail for a lot longer than what even their underlying crime would have been if they could be convicted of it and they can't be convicted of it so, therefore, they just sit in jail and it exasperates their mental health status," Stanek said.

He met Thursday with Gov. Mark Dayton and other state leaders to discuss the issue, but it did not produce a remedy to the problem, Stanek said.

"Decades ago Minnesota got rid of the vast majority of the state mental health treatment beds and so then they leave these people out to the streets (and) they end up getting arrested," he said.

The Department of Human Services says a massive increase in the number of people that the law requires DHS move from jails to treatment facilities has put a tremendous strain on the system.