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Mental health task force working to determine scope of work

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- A task force proposed by the South Dakota's top judge and governor to study issues surrounding mentally ill people entering the criminal justice system is trying to determine the scope of its work.

SIOUX FALLS (AP) - A task force proposed by the South Dakota's top judge and governor to study issues surrounding mentally ill people entering the criminal justice system is trying to determine the scope of its work.

The group hopes to propose policy changes by October, but members of the task force must first decide what segment of the population with mental illness to focus on: anyone with a mental illness or only the seriously ill, the Argus Leader reported. The members of the Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention met Friday in Sioux Falls.

"I don't think you can isolate it in the criminal justice system to just the seriously mentally ill," Chief Justice David Gilbertson said. "I think you have to look at all forms of mental illness, otherwise you've only solved half the problem."

Gilbertson and Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed the task force last year after the Sioux Falls newspaper reported that a backlog of mental competency evaluations of criminal suspects is taxing county budgets and raising concerns about the rights of defendants. There were 147 requests in state court for mental competency exams in fiscal 2015.

The group is expected to analyze why and how individuals with mental illness come into contact with the criminal justice system. It will also examine the detention of those individuals in county jails. On Friday, the group reviewed the reasons behind a recent increase in the number of court-ordered mental health competency evaluations.

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While Gilbertson favors a look at all forms of mental illness, not everyone in the task force agrees.

Department of Corrections Secretary Denny Kaemingk said the focus should be on people with serious mental health conditions because they are often the ones who need some level of services.

"There are a lot of people who suffer from mental illnesses, but when you have the severely mentally ill, we need to deal with those individuals first, and for us to get our arms around it, I think those are the individuals we need to deal with first," Kaemingk said.

The 20-member task force includes sheriffs, prosecutors, mental health professionals and others. It will gather next on May 26 in Fort Pierre.

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