Civil commitment leaves Hennepin County offenders languishing

Mentally ill inmates wait months for evaluation, treatment

It didn't take much to set Yusef Warsame off.

Warsame approached his 14-year-old brother, Ayoub, who was sitting on the couch at their parents' house in Robbinsdale last summer. Warsame wanted his brother to clean the dishes. When Ayoub refused, Warsame slapped him in the face and tackled him to the ground. He eventually wrestled his brother in a guillotine chokehold.

Just before things went black, Ayoub managed to slip away and call 911.

In the years prior to anti-psychotic medications, Minnesota's mental health system focused on long-term institutionalization
courtesy of the MN Dept. of Human Services
In the years prior to anti-psychotic medications, Minnesota's mental health system focused on long-term institutionalization
Judge Jay Quam believes that the civil commitment system needs to be reformed
Craig Lassig
Judge Jay Quam believes that the civil commitment system needs to be reformed

Warsame was already a frequent flyer in the mental health court. In 2007, he threatened to shank a University of Minnesota student near the West Bank campus. "I'm going to fucking kill you," he told the young man. Police arrested Warsame and found two knives in his back pocket. Warsame was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder and committed to a state hospital for intensive psychiatric care.

But because of the way the system is set up, offenders who have already been committed don't raise any sort of red flag with the mental health court, so no one knew he had been arrested again. Warsame was simply charged with assault and dumped in jail with everyone else.

"There should be a way of red-flagging somebody who's already been in the mental health system," says Mark Gray, Warsame's attorney. "They just don't cross reference things."

Warsame's condition spiraled downward in jail. He became convinced that the guards were conspiring against him, and filed grievances on a semi-daily basis. He was what the guards colloquially refer to as a "shit spreader," which is pretty much just what it sounds like. Warsame was eventually charged with fourth-degree assault for throwing his feces at the guards.

"I think if they would have caught the case a lot sooner, he would have been on medication, possibly, and that crime might not have happened," says Gray.

For mentally ill people like Warsame, jail can be the worst possible environment. If identified as mentally ill by the jail staff, an inmate is brought up to a maximum security wing on the third floor of the facility. Those in mild condition are allowed to interact with each other in a common room for part of the day, but the more disruptive ones are locked in solitary cells for 23 hours a day.

To its credit, the Hennepin County jail is progressive when it comes to mentally ill inmates, at least relative to other facilities in the state. The jailers are trained in how to deal with the mentally ill, and the medical staff can offer inmates their most recently prescribed medication, providing it's not a narcotic. Patients can also request to see a nurse or psychiatrist from the Hennepin County Medical Center.

But the jail is no substitute for a hospital, and security is the primary concern. Without civil commitment, treatment options are limited, and completely voluntary for the inmates. As a result, many go without medication, mentally decompensating in their cells while waiting to be committed.

"Decompensation can happen in a matter of days or weeks or a few months," says Philip Krasowski, a nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center who works with the mental health court. "The longer you're off treatment, the sicker you get, and the harder it is to bring you back."

With such long stays in jail awaiting commitment, inmates frequently leave in a far worse condition than when they arrived, says Doug McGuire, attorney coordinator with the mental health defense project.

"It's not only a deprivation of liberty and failure to treat, but also you have people who are ending up worse off than when this whole thing started," says McGuire. "And that's very unfortunate."

The issue also puts jailers in an unfair position, interacting with mentally ill inmates who often resist them. In 2010, a young man named Antwain Mitchell was arrested for a probation violation. Mitchell sat in jail for months, all the time suffering from paranoid schizophrenia that brought on grossly disturbed hallucinations. In December, Mitchell punched a guard in the face. Two months later, he took a bite out of a guard who was trying to attach a spit hood to him.

When Mitchell was finally committed, a doctor determined that he had "a proclivity towards violence and is apt to use violence particularly when he is experiencing symptomatology of his mental illness." Mitchell was ultimately determined to be not just mentally ill, but also dangerous.

The added "dangerous" diagnosis makes no small difference. On average, a patient diagnosed as simply mentally ill is committed to a six-month treatment program, which is frequently completed through outpatient care. A mentally ill and dangerous patient generally receives an indeterminate sentence, often three to seven years in a maximum security hospital.

"That actually happens much more often than I'd like to see it," says Judge Quam. "It makes perfect sense. They're mentally ill, they're very disruptive, they're in a relatively antagonist environment. If you haven't committed an overt act, it sure can happen in jail."


Prior to December 2009, Quam had virtually no familiarity with mental health court. As an attorney, Quam had worked at the same private firm for 18 years, practicing a range of civil litigation and criminal defense law. Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed him to the bench in 2006, when Quam was only 44.

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9 comments
t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Minnesota also does not mandate any advocacy for criminal & civil cases a like, in any aspect of the Minnesota Judicial system sanction by the Federal "United" States of America government.

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

P.S. Its like how everyone forgets Charles Lindbergh turned to join the German Nazi's for monetary reasons. That's a fact of the Little Falls, MN natives life. What's more evil, being honest & telling people what actually is happening & going to happen or masking plans & actions in fake to reality poetry, likewise to, "We the people,.."

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Minnesota practices a different capital punishment. One likewise to the degenerate Thomas Jefferson, claiming, "We the people,..." to veil in a cloak of fancy linguistics to mask their Demonic Actions. If your "diagnosed" with a " severe" mental "illness", your sanctioned by the State of Minnesota to a life long, cruel & unusaul, torturious death by lethal injection of chemicals that cripple the human body as a whole. Lambs to the slaughter as it were. When people ask me, "Tim, do you think its more dangerous to take up residency in Texas or Minnesota?" I answer, "It will always be more dangerous to be a resident in Minnesota, U.S.A., than any other state in the Union." & you all can take that to the federal reserve "bank".

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Fuck you, (The writer of this article, that is) & all your "Civil" commitments.

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Fuck you, (The writer of this article that is) & your "civil" commitments.

Prizm2500
Prizm2500

It disgusted me to read about Ahmed Hassen and Edgar Coleman. These parasites of society should just be shot in a field and left to rot. They add no value to society- all they do is use up resources and degrade the quality of life of people that have to interact with them.

MMZIEMAN47
MMZIEMAN47

RAMSEY COUNTY DOES THE OPPOSITE. I HAD NIECE PUT IN THE REGIONS HOSPITALBY A PROSECUTOR WITH A VENDETTA WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED ANDGONE THROUGH ANOKA TREATMENT PROGRAM AND THEN THROUGH THE COURTSYSTEM AFTER BEING CONFIRMED COMPETENT FOR A 2 MINUTE FLEEING POLICEWHEN SHE WAS ILL AND DID NOT KNOW THEY WERE BEHIND HER. MY NIECE WASWAS IN TOTAL REMISSION AND THIS WAS CONFIRMED BY THE EXAMINATION AFTERHER COURT REQURED HER A ER. CRISIS EXAM THAT STATED SHE WAS IN TOTALCOMPLIANCE OF HER MEDICATIONS AND SENT HER BACK TO HER APARTMENT SHEHAD OCCUPIED (9 MONTHS) FROM HER RELEASE FROM ANOKA TREATMENT FACILITY. MY NIECE WAS DOING THE BEST THAT SHE EVER WAS THE DOCTORS THAT NEW HER STATED THIS ALSO. THE PROSECUTOR COULD NOT FIND A DOCTOR TO ADMIT HER TO THE HOSPITAL. SO HE EXPARTED HER FOR BEINGMENTALLY ILL & DANGEROUS USING THE SAME LAW THE CRIMINAL JUDGERELEASED HER ON. THIS WAS BECAUSE NO DOCTOR WOULD ADMIT HER!THE INVOLUNTARY HOLD COURT ORDERED SHE WAS AS THE DOCTORS STATEDABSOLUTELY NO MEDICAL CARE NECESSARY! THIS HOLD WITHOUT A DISCHARGEDATE CAN CONTRIBUTE TO STRESS AND DEPRESSION, THIS IS BORDERING ONINTENTIONAL INFLICTIOL OF EMOTION DISTRESS! THIS WAS CHARTED DAILY INHER MEDICAL RECIRDS AND SENT TO RAMSEY COUNTY ATTORNEY OFFICE DAILYPER STAFF REPORT. THEY HELD HER THERE FOR 6 WEEKS AT $2600.00 DOLLARSA DAY WITH NO MEDICAL CARE NECESSARY AND AFTER 6 WEEKS SHE DID BECOMEILL AS THE DOCTOR STATED, THEY THEN SENT HER TO ST. PETERS WERE SHE STILL IS AT WITH NO RECORD OF EVER HARMING NO ONE. THE HOSPITAL COSTBILLED TO MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AT THE REGIONS HOSPITA;L WAS $158,000.00.PAYED BY THE TAXPAYERS AND HER INDITERMINE STAY A ST. PETERS HOSPITALCONTINUES TO BE PAID BY THE TAXPAYERS. MY NIECE DOE NOT BELONG THERETHIS IS OUT OF A VERY WELL DOCUMENTED VENDETTA FROM THE PROSECUTORSOFFICE. EVIDENDLY RAMSEY COUNTY PROSECUTORS DON'T CARE WHAT IT COSTTHE TAXPAYERS. AS LONG AS THEY GET WHAT THEY WANT! I AM SURE THEY COULD SPEND THIS MONEY ON SOMETHING MORE PRODUCTIVE LIKE GOING AFTERREAL DANGEROUS PEOPLE ON THE STREETS THEN PICKING A DISABLED MENTALILLNESS PERSON WHO NEVER HARMED ANYONE THAT WAS IN FULL REMISSION.AT LEAST HENEPIN COUNTY HAS REAL SICK PEOPLE IN THERE JAILS AND HOSPITALSAT $120.00 A DAY VERSUS RAMSEY COUNTY JAILING THIS PERSON $2600.00 A DAY.MY NIECE HAD RETURNED TO HER APARTMENT AFTER TREATMENT FOR THEPREVIOUS 9 MONTHS AND HELD THIS APARTMENT OVER 6 YEARS. THE PREVIOUSJUDGE DID NOT HOLD HER BECAUSE SHE NEW SHE WAS NOT DANGEROUS. THEHER RENT WAS $625.00 A MONTH SHE IS ON SOCIAL SEVURITY AND RECEIVEDSECTION8 ASSIST! THE PROSECUTOR WANTED HER LOCKED UP! CLAIMING SHEWAS A DANGER AND BROUGHT IN A DIFFERENT JUDGE TO EXCEPT THE EXPARTE!SO THEY PAID $2600.00 A DAY TO KEEP HER IN THE HOSPITAL AND THE DOCTORSIN THE HOSPITAL TRIED TO GET HER DISCHARGED AND THE PROSECUTIOR SAIDSHE NEEDS TO STAY THERE AND GET STABLE!!! TH HOSPITAL TOLD HER COURTAPOINTED ATTORNEY "THIS IS NOT A JAIL, IF YOU WANT HER IN JAIL PUT HERTHERE"! COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEY REPLIED SHE CAN'T GO TO JAIL!!!!

portia chalifoux
portia chalifoux

The graphic is so disappointingly dehumanizing and only serves to reinforce dismal stereotype. Straitjacket and a featureless face? Is that what people who are suffering with severe and debilitating mental illness inspire as a visualization? Soulless, inhumane and without compassion - the new American way, which the story reinforces.

PaPa
PaPa

How the mentally ill are treated in the court system was reported in an accurate manner but the issue of the costs involved was really not relevant. Apparently what the reporter did not know and failed to follow up with is that once an offender is determined to be mentally incapable of a trial and sentenced to a mental facility those costs are still the burden of the county of committ.

And even if convicted, and sentenced to prison, the mentally ill sent to state mental health facilities such as St.Peter are still the cost burden of the convicting county. Offenders sentenced by the state can even do time in state prisons and later found mentally ill and thus transferred to St. Peter and then have their state time stopped and the county of committ then picks up the costs....which are on a daily rate five times that of prison. The mentally ill will always be the burden of the county, whether jammed up in the county court system or sent to a state facility.

 
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