Crime and Justice Institute Provides Roadmap for Rural Criminal Justice Responses to Mentally Ill

Boston, MA—The Crime and Justice Institute has released a new toolkit for rural states seeking comprehensive, statewide solutions to improve the way their criminal justice systems address individuals who have mental illness.

Nationwide, law enforcement officers and jail staff have become the primary responders to mental health crises, but they often lack the training and resources to do the job well. These challenges are more pronounced in rural areas where mental health care is often largely unavailable in the community and in jails.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in four jail inmates in the United States has indicators of serious mental illness compared to one in 19 in the general population.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen more and more people with mental illness coming into our state’s jails,” said Pennington County South Dakota Sheriff Kevin Thom. “We are lucky here in Rapid City because we have mental health staff and community resources. Our rural jails struggle because they don’t have the space, the staff or the resources needed to care for people.”

A Toolkit for Legislative Reform: Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Mental Illness in Rural States details South Dakota’s successful effort to develop statewide policies to better serve individuals with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system. This effort was catalyzed and supported by the State’s Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention, funded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Following these efforts, South Dakota lawmakers adopted comprehensive mental health legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in March 2017. The legislative package provides tools and training to law enforcement, jail officers, judges, and other criminal justice professionals; expedites the completion of competency exams, ensuring speedier court processing and shorter jail stays; and strengthens opportunities to divert people from the criminal justice system to mental health treatment.

The toolkit offers a path for comprehensive change, from the decision to pursue statewide reform, launch of the effort, a framework for consensus policy development, and strategies for implementation and sustainability.

“With a rigorous study of how your state criminal justice system responds to mental illness by a multi-disciplinary, bipartisan group and broad stakeholder engagement, it is possible to come up with impactful statewide policies,” said South Dakota State Court Administrator Greg Sattizahn. “The Crime and Justice Institute’s toolkit lays out the steps needed for other states to improve the way they address critical systems issues through legislative action.”

A Toolkit for Legislative Reform: Improving Criminal Justice Responses to Mental Illness in Rural States is available on the Crime and Justice Institute website.

About the Helmsley Charitable Trust

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting exceptional efforts in the U.S. and around the world in health and select place-based initiatives. Since beginning active grantmaking in 2008, Helmsley has committed more than $1.8 billion for a wide range of charitable purposes. Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program funds innovative projects that use information technologies to connect rural patients to emergency medical care, bring the latest medical therapies to patients in remote areas, and provide state-of-the-art training for rural hospitals and EMS personnel. To date, this program has awarded more than $300 million to organizations and initiatives in the upper Midwest states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana.  For more information, visit

About the Crime and Justice Institute

The Crime and Justice Institute (CJI), a division of Community Resources for Justice, strives to make criminal and juvenile justice systems more efficient and cost effective and to promote accountability for outcomes. CJI takes pride in its ability to improve evidence-based practices in safety and justice agencies, gain organizational acceptance in difficult work environments, create realistic implementation plans, put these plans into practice, evaluate their effectiveness, and enhance the sustainability of sound policies and practices. With funding from the State of South Dakota provided as a result of a grant by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, CJI in 2016 began work with the State of South Dakota’s Task Force on Community Justice and Mental Illness Early Intervention. The Task Force’s work resulted in policy recommendations in November 2016.  Based on these policy recommendations, the State of South Dakota in early 2017 designed and passed sweeping mental health reform legislation that will improve outcomes for people with mental illness who come into contact with the criminal justice system. For more information, visit


Laura Fahey, Helmsley Charitable Trust,, 212-953-2814.

Christian Shiavone, Community Resources for Justice, cschiavone@crj.org617-482-2520 x104 or 617-529-5856.