May is Mental Health Awareness Month and reducing the number of those with mental illnesses in the Crow Wing County Jail was recently on the minds of the board of commissioners.

County Adult Services Supervisor Tami Lueck requested the board support Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative's development of a regional comprehensive re-entry program by connecting mentally ill inmates to community-based treatment and services.

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"This will be in partnership with our other key stakeholders in Region Five-Plus, which includes Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, Wadena, Todd and Morrison counties and then the tribes as well," she said.

A design team was put together to look at how a comprehensive re-entry plan can be developed in the county-a team that includes 9th Judicial District Judge Earl Maus, County Attorney Don Ryan, the sheriff's office and Northern Pines Mental Health Center, to name a few.

Before the board meeting on Tuesday, May 8, the Region V+ team stated, for example, a need exists for an apartment building "designed and constructed to meet the needs of adults who are diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness" in one of those counties.

There were more than 4,000 bookings in the county jail last year, and 36 percent of them may have been eligible for diversions, such as home care, chemical dependency treatment, an acute care setting, detox and more, according to Jail Administrator Heath Fosteson.

"The reason that we are asking for this resolution is not only to support this effort from a regional standpoint, but also so we that we can apply for the National Joint Powers Alliance innovation grant to support this region-wide," Lueck told the board.

County officials estimate without the county having to deal with issues related to mental illness and chemical dependency, child out-of-home placement would be reduced by 80 percent, the number of jail inmates by 80 percent and the number of those on probation by 70 percent.

"This grant that we are looking at here now would be to ask for some regional support for staffing for the care coordinators that would be shared amongst the counties," Lueck said of the NJPA innovation grant.

The impacts of ongoing reductions in state and federal funding for serious mental illness treatment and the resulting increased rates of serious mental illness in child protection cases and in incarcerations in the jail are at rates three to six times higher than the general population.

Minnesota closed all but two of its large mental health hospitals by 2008. Work started on community-based services in 1976, but in 1987, the Legislature put the responsibility for developing them on the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the counties.

The state didn't build enough community-based hospitals and chose to underfund the ones it did

build, according to some county commissioners.

The board resolution reads: "The net effect of these changes is the increasing criminalization of serious mental illness ... an institutionalized residential setting that is ill-equipped to do the same, which we believe to be a worse system that what we had with the state hospitals."

DHS awarded $195,718.50 to Region V+ to support a specialist's work with those in Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center, community behavioral health hospitals or other hospitals settings for reintegration into the community and work the Mobile Crisis Outreach team does.

"We received a DHS grant to help fund the Mobile Crisis (Outreach) team that will be doing the after-hours and kind of weekends screenings ... at the jails across the region," Lueck explained.

Rather than simply incarcerating those with mental illness or chemical dependency issues, the county has been looking for ways since 2011 to divert those who qualify to places that provide crisis services and intensive residential treatment services, which are better equipped.

The board resolution also states: "Without the appropriate treatment and services, people with mental illnesses continue to cycle through the criminal justice system, often resulting in tragic outcomes for these individuals and their families."

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen then made the motion to approve the resolution to support Region V+ Adult Mental Health Initiative's development of a regional comprehensive re-entry program. Commissioner Doug Houge seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.