Ana Lastra and Jay Kolls
A critical service used by county prosecutors to get mentally ill defendants the help they need and justice for victims of crime is coming to an end.
The Department of Human Services announced it is phasing out its Competency Restoration Program.
The state has offered the service to defendants found incompetent to stand trial, meaning they are unable to assist in their defense.
The Chisago County Attorney's Office says this could result in people arrested for serious crimes, but deemed incompetent to stand trial, could be held in legal limbo.
"If there is no other place for them to go, there's a situation where I could easily see them sitting and languishing in jail, not receiving ,whether it be the help they need, or the help they need to be restored to competence to then have their case tried in court," Chisago County Assistant Attorney Jacob Fischmann said.
Fischmann stated the importance of the program is highlighted by the case involving 32-year-old Jericoe LaBarre.
LaBarre was arrested on allegations of sexually assaulting two minors in 2016, but he was found incompetent to stand trial.
LaBarre was committed to the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, where he completed the state's competency restoration program.
In October, LaBarre pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Fischmann said this is a case that worked under the current system.
He says without it, LaBarre's possible criminal charges would have been suspended, leaving him in jail indefinitely or out on bail.
"It wouldn't be right to send somebody back to jail for an indeterminate amount of time when they haven't really been charged because they're not competent to stand trial yet," said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Abderholden said she was never consulted on the decision and now worries there's no safety net.
"Cost savings or not you can't just make a decision without the input of the people affected and without having a plan for what happens next. That is irresponsible, frankly, to do this," Abderholden said.
DHS says it is not legally required to provide competency restoration, despite doing so since 2006.
The state said it costs approximately $10 million for competency restoration services at its facility in St. Peter, and will now use that money to focus entirely on mental health treatment.
In a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, the state said, "We're taking this step to improve access to DHS-operated mental health facilities, which is precisely what counties, courts, law enforcement and communities across Minnesota have been asking us to do. Treating mental illness is our core mission. Competency restoration is not."
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