ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Metro sheriffs and county attorneys came together for a late-evening press conference on Monday at the Minnesota capitol to oppose a proposed change to the state's 48-hour rule.
The 48-hour rule requires inmates to be transferred to a state hospital within 48 hours of a commitment. However, due to a lack of beds and staffing issues, sometimes inmates are left waiting in jail for extended periods. Last year, Anthony Swope was left in Scott County Jail for nearly two months. Currently, in Hennepin County, one inmate has been held in jail for 111 days past the 48-hour rule.
The shortage of beds isn't a new issue, but officials admit it has been exacerbated since the pandemic. Under the proposed change, the 48-hour rule would now start when a bed is made available versus when a commitment is issued.
A joint letter from statewide groups representing Minnesota sheriffs, county attorneys, counties, and social service directors expressed opposition to the bill.
Leaders said the bill "undermines the original protective purpose of the 48-hour rule." Some of those leaders came together Monday evening at the capitol to vocalize their concerns. They worry the change will take the pressure off state authorities to find a bed for people in need of mental health care.
"A small amendment that has huge ramifications has been put in place," said Sheriff Bob Fletcher. "The attorney general's comments today which basically were that 'we have to change the law so we don't keep getting sued.' Has anyone heard anything as silly as that? Public policy should be based upon what's good for the public and what's good for the individuals that we're discussing."
"This is not okay," added Sheriff Dawanna Witt. "This is a rule, a suggestion that is going to make it tough [to get people into facilities]. It ignores what the problem is. The problem is the infrastructure: we need beds, we need staffing and that's where the resources need to be put."
In a statement before Monday's press conference, Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL - Minneapolis), the chair of the House Human Services Finance Committee, said he is proposing creating a task force to recommend changes for people facing mental health struggles.
The statement from Rep. Noor reads:
"The 48-hour rule, as it currently stands, is no help to anyone when we do not have enough beds available. The rule is not being removed, but altered, starting the 48-hour ‘clock’ at the time a bed becomes available. Meeting the needs of people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system is a shared responsibility that requires thoughtful solutions that don’t pit stakeholders against each other, or merely shift the responsibilities from one stakeholder to another.
"An immediate but temporary change in the law is necessary to clearly establish when the requirement to admit patients from jails within 48 hours begins. To that end, we are proposing a task force of stakeholders who can then evaluate the impact of the law and make recommendations about how to meet the needs of people with mental illnesses who are involved with the criminal justice system, with recommendations due to the legislature for the 2025 session."
In a statement to FOX 9, the Department of Human Services said:
"The priority admissions law was a well-intentioned attempt to solve a problem for jails. However, the current law interferes with the clinical judgment of highly trained psychiatrists and other clinical professionals and places DHS in an untenable position because we cannot admit new patients when our facilities are full. Decisions about admissions and patient care must only be made by qualified medical professionals who have the necessary expertise and experience to determine which patients should be admitted to the hospitals based on the severity of their conditions, not their presence in jail. Amending the law as proposed will give a task force time to take a thorough and thoughtful look at how the law has affected individual stakeholders and the mental health system as a whole and to consider whether permanent adjustments to the law are warranted."
As of Tuesday, there are 45 people on the priority admissions waiting list.