A mental health advocacy agency in South Dakota says too many people with mental health issues are being misunderstood and locked up in jail, rather than receiving treatment.

According to John Snook, head of The Treatment Advocacy Center, jails and prisons aren't built to handle this population, and that using them criminalizes mental-health disorders. He blames the lack of psychiatric beds. "One example that we've figured out doing analysis: we now have fewer state hospital beds per capita than we did in 1850." says Snook. "And again, that's not 1950, that's 1850."

The publication The Marshall Project claims on a minimum of seven occurrences at a hospital in Pierre, children ages 12 to 16 spent a night in jail, in some cases after attempting suicide.

Across the country, and especially in rural areas, people in the middle of a mental health crisis are locked in a cell when a hospital bed or transportation to a hospital isn’t immediately available. The patients are transported from the ER like inmates, handcuffed in the back of police vehicles. Laws in five states — New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming — explicitly say that correctional facilities may be used for what is called a mental health hold.

South Dakota is one of five states where state law says people experiencing a mental-health crisis can be held in a correctional facility according to Snook, but he's not blaming police.  The lack of mental health facilities is the main issue, due to a lack of funding.

Another possible solution is offering more tele-medicine services, where those especially in smaller communities can have access to mental health professionals who can diagnose and treat patients.



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