DHS to end Competency Restoration Program

DHS to end Competency Restoration Program Photo: Minnesota Department Human Services

December 18, 2018 02:26 PM

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is ending its longtime practice of treating mentally ill defendants found incompetent to stand trial in felony and gross misdemeanor cases.

The agency released a bulletin Tuesday explaining the change to district court judges, county attorneys and public defenders. The agency has operated the Competency Restoration Program since 2006. 

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RELATED: Concerns raised over state ending Competency Restoration Program

According to the bulletin, county case managers will create discharge plans when a person is admitted to a state facility. The document states defendants will then be discharged from the facility to jail as soon as their mental health needs are met and no longer require in-patient treatment.

A leading mental health advocate called DHS's decision "irresponsible."  

Sue Abderholden, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she doesn't believe it is appropriate to send someone back to jail if they haven't been found competent to stand trial. 

"I think what really angers me is that we have pretty vulnerable people who are impacted by this, and where are they going to go," Abderholden said.

The restoration program was designed to educate mentally ill defendants who have been civilly committed to a state-run facility to be able to assist in their own defense.

In the bulletin, the agency said it voluntarily started providing the service through a 25-bed program. The department said they are now averaging 120 patients who have been declared incompetent in three locations. 

"As this program has grown, over-retention of patients who no longer need inpatient mental health treatment has been a growing issue and is a barrier to other individuals receiving access to such care," according to DHS.

In a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, DHS said in part, "Treating mental illness is our core mission. Competency restoration is not."

Felony or gross misdemeanor cases would be suspended if defendants are unable to assist in their own defense or understand court proceedings.

Chisago County prosecutors said that ending the program means that defendants could now remain jailed for an undetermined amount of time unless they post bail.

That scenario is problematic,  prosecutor Jacob Fischmann said. He said jails don't have the capacity to take care of the needs of mentally ill defendants and restore their competency.

"They don't have the expertise that DHS has; they don't have the wonderful doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists who have devoted their lives to this. It would be up to those jails to provide complex competency restoration to people? Who knows what would happen," Fischmann said.
 

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