Minnesota Rep. Marion O’Neill first became aware of the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders in the state’s prisons while serving on the Legislature’s Prison Population Task Force in 2015.
State corrections officials told the task force that 85 percent to 90 percent of inmates had a chemical dependency, 60 percent had mental health issues, and 11 percent were severely mentally ill.
“It was clear we needed to address these individuals’ underlying issues, not just the criminal behavior,” O’Neill says.
She also learned that the majority of prison admissions — 64 percent in 2016 — were people whose parole or probation was revoked due to technical violations such as missing a meeting or failing a drug test, as opposed to individuals who had committed new crimes.
This year, O’Neill sponsored legislation that requires parole and probation agents to consider community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders who violate the conditions of their probation or parole.
Under the new law, before revoking an offender’s probation or parole for a technical violation, agents must identify “options to address and correct the violation,” such as inpatient substance abuse treatment.