AP NEWS

Chief justice seeks new mental health court in Sioux Falls

January 9, 2019
FILE - In this Jan 13, 2016 file photo, South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson speaks to lawmakers during his State of the Judiciary message at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D. The chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court is set to deliver an address to the Legislature. It will be his 17th address. The speech will focus on issues that affected the judiciary last year and the state judicial system's goals for the coming year. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota Supreme Court’s chief justice urged officials in a legislative address Wednesday to seriously consider creating a mental health court in the Sioux Falls region.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson said in his State of the Judiciary message that the need for such a court is “great” in Minnehaha County. He said that from February through June 2018, 13.5 percent of prisoners screened at Minnehaha County jail intake had a mental illness.

“We all agree that people who commit crimes need to be held accountable,” Gilbertson said. “On the other hand, we also know that jail is not always the best place for many people with serious mental illness.”

Gilbertson said a mental health court in Pennington County, home of Rapid City, met a goal to become fully operational by Jan. 1. The program is led by a specially trained judge and includes a team of mental health personnel to provide treatment plans and services, he said.

If a person with mental illness can be put into a mental health court, where they are monitored, and get back on their medication, then they can become productive citizens again, Gilbertson said after the speech.

“It’s a little soon to declare victory, but we’re very optimistic it’s going to work,” said Gilbertson, adding that would engage in discussions to hopefully get the new Sioux Falls-area mental health court funded.

He used the message, the 17th he’s delivered, to praise the state’s drug and alcohol courts as a “vibrant force to save people from the curse of drug and alcohol addiction.”

Gilbertson also said he’s supporting the addition of a judge in the Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Lincoln and Minnehaha counties, because the court system is feeling the stress of drug prosecutions.

He noted major changes in state government, including the state’s new governor — Republican Kristi Noem — and constitutional officers.

But Gilbertson didn’t address a proposal from new Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to end the state’s presumptive probation policy for some lower-level felonies. The push comes after South Dakota in 2013 passed a Republican-led justice system overhaul, which Gilbertson supported, to tackle prison overcrowding, cut costs and expand drug addiction treatment options.

Gilbertson said after the speech that he doesn’t plan to weigh in on the measure.

“I have to be a little careful that way because if we get an appeal to the Supreme Court I don’t want to be reading my own words, you know, as part of the record holding forth on whether the bill was a good bill or a bad bill,” Gilbertson said.

Ravnsborg’s push comes after he successfully campaigned on ending presumptive probation to win his first term as the state’s chief lawyer and law enforcement officer. Ravnsborg said there must be deterrence.

“You don’t always have to use the stick, as I keep saying, but you got to have the threat that you might use the stick,” Ravnsborg said.