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Lawmakers pass mental health package that includes 'gap' protection in criminal justice system

Both the State Senate and House passed the legislation, which closes gaps uncovered by a KARE 11 investigation for those deemed incompetent.

ST PAUL, Minn. — While lots of important work was left undone when the 2022 legislative session ended, lawmakers did manage to pass a mental health package influenced by a KARE 11 investigation exposing problems with competency and people falling through gaps in the criminal justice system. 

The measure, first passed by the House and then added to a larger $92.7 million omnibus mental health package passed by the Senate, establishes a procedure to assess the “mental competency” of a defendant to stand trial and integrates competency restoration into the existing mental health system. 

The bill requires that if a defendant is found incompetent and the charges have not been dismissed, the court shall order the defendant to participate in a competency restoration program to restore the defendant's competence. 

In a series of reports over the past year, KARE 11 Investigates documented how gaps in current legal and mental health systems failed to adequately treat defendants with mental illness – and failed to protect the public from new crimes, including rapes, violent assaults, and murders.

KARE 11 revealed cases in which accused criminals found incompetent to stand trial were simply released into communities without adequate care or supervision.

RELATED: Mentally ill suspects charged with crimes go untreated; the public goes unprotected

Lawmakers like Senator David Senjem pointed to the ongoing KARE 11 investigation as a reason for passage. 

“Minnesota has had a long-standing revolving door with defendants being found incompetent to stand trial and being released into society without receiving the mental health care they so desperately need," Senjem, the author of the bill's language on competency restoration, said. "This bill provides the care and supervision they need to be crime-free and productive, and it will keep the public safe.”

The mental health package passed by both legislative bodies also provides resources for mental health services in schools, establishes a mental health urgency room pilot program, removes the moratorium on mental health beds in hospitals for five years, and includes incentives to encourage and ease barriers to entering the mental health profession.

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