Civil commitment leaves Hennepin County offenders languishing

Mentally ill inmates wait months for evaluation, treatment

In his appointment, Pawlenty remarked upon Quam's career as a successful litigator, with an impressive portfolio of volunteer work for low-income clients. "He will bring an incredible amount of intellect, energy, and compassion to the position," said Pawlenty. Fellow lawyers also comment on Quam's unusually personable attitude toward offenders in his courtroom—he has the "head and heart" for the job, says one attorney—but Quam is no pushover. He's the judge who boldly threw fallen-auto king Denny Hecker in jail over unpaid alimony to "motivate him."

After being assigned to civil commitment court, Quam quickly noticed the lag time for cases to reach his court. Many of the defendants were in desperate need of help, which Quam began to suspect was exacerbated by the long periods of time spent in jail waiting to move through the system.

"It's very apparent, when someone is symptomatic like that, that they need mental treatment," says Quam. "And these folks needed it and hadn't been getting it."

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

Quam was particularly galled with the burden this was putting on the jailers and the taxpayers.

"It's kind of everyone's fault," says Quam. "I think everyone would agree that it's bad to have people languishing in jail when they need mental health treatment. But the problem is, no one's really accountable for that."

Quam believes there is a better way. For starters, he thinks the two separate psychiatric evaluations could be condensed into one. This way, if the offender fits the criteria for commitment, the process would kick in right away. He also thinks jailers could be encouraged to file competency petitions, as they are the ones who see these inmates the most.

"I think you can tweak their personal responsibility to most effectively move the process along," says Quam. "Right now, it's kind of inefficient."

Others in the system have come to an almost identical conclusion. McGuire, who has been defending civil commitment cases since the '80s, has long believed that the system is too redundant.

"Right now, it's a sequential process," says McGuire. "They have to go through the criminal process until they get to a point where the criminal process says, 'We can't deal with you anymore'.... You end up with an individual that—if they end up refusing medications, which they can do very easily if they're not under commitment—they end up coming to the mental health court so psychiatrically decompensated that it takes a long time for them to get back."

But even if everyone agrees the system is broken, changing it is another matter. Quam has spent the last few months meeting with judges, trying to determine the logistics of instituting reform. Since it's never been done, Quam is venturing into uncharted territory.

And as a judge, his power is limited. If the system is truly to be overhauled, it will have to be done at the State Capitol.

"It could be addressed legislatively, no doubt about that," says Quam. "Whether anyone has the appetite to change or draft legislation to address the problem, I don't know."


In December 2010, Quam received a troubling letter from Al Poncin, an attorney on the mental health court's defense project. Eugene Gates had finally been committed that month. But several weeks later, Gates still hadn't been transferred to a hospital for treatment—he remained in jail.

Another of Poncin's clients, Ronald Brewer, was in a similar situation. In July 2010, Brewer was arrested outside the Country Bar, a karaoke dive in Uptown. The cops found a wadded-up napkin filled with 49 prescription Oxycodone pills in his pocket. The problem was that the prescription belonged to someone back at the bar, who told police Brewer had stolen the pills. Suffering from major depressive disorder, Brewer had threatened suicide from his jail cell, but it took months to commit him. And since his commitment, he had sat in jail for another month awaiting transfer.

By now, he had been wasting away in jail for more than five months for the low-level drug charge.

"If you've got a sick person and he's sitting in jail, the fact that he hasn't been committed doesn't make him any less sick," says Poncin. "If he's so sick he needs involuntary treatment, he probably needed that on July 1."

Not only does this violate the purpose of civil commitment, but it could also be illegal. The Minnesota civil commitment statute states that once someone is committed, the Department of Human Services is obligated to provide "proper care and treatment." The statute explicitly states that this means the patient can't be "confined in a jail or correctional institution."

Quam penned a notice to Cal Ludemen, then commissioner of Human Services, demanding the Department of Human Services come to his court and show cause for why Gates and Brewer continued to languish in jail.

"In no way can it be argued that jail or prison is an effective way to help a mentally ill person get better," wrote Quam. "In fact, the opposite is true."

On January 14, 2011, Quam held what would be the first of three hearings designed to make the Department of Human Services answer for why it was taking so long to transfer patients out of the jail.

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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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