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Sheriffs Don't Want Jails To Be America's New Asylums

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Jail cells have become America's new asylums -- that's what members of the National Sheriffs' Association believe.

They also believe inmates with mental illnesses do not get better when they sit in a county jail. Some even get worse.

"Those with mental illness, without a doubt, stay longer than inmates that don't suffer from mental illness," said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek.

He says that's why there is discussion across the country about how to help.

At the Hennepin County Jail, as in most jails across the country, authorities manage the inmates' behavior, but they do not treat mental illness.

"Often times, they are here longer, waiting for the mental process, the civil commitment process, to catch up with them. And that's a problem," Stanek said.

He has applied for grants that will allow the Hennepin County Jail to offer services for the mentally ill like never before.

The jail has partnered with Hennepin County Medical Center to provide that care.

"We are working with the HCMC to provide nurse screening at the point of intake, so we can identify folks earlier on who suffer from mental illness," Stanek said.

Hennepin County is also working on establishing a mental health caseload system so they can track those with known mental health issues.

The goal is to deal with the frequent flyers, or people who rely on a jail cell to obtain the medications and psychiatric care they need to become stabilized.

Another high priority for sheriffs across the county is the opioid epidemic.

County jails are full of people addicted to heroin, and they say some of it has been cut with the powerful painkiller fentanol, leading to lots of overdoses.

Some sheriffs are even giving inmates a drug that curbs their appetite for opioids for 30 days, so they won't quickly return to lock up.

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