Starting a dialogue over incarcerating the mentally ill

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La Crosse, Wis. (WXOW) – Statistics show that a high percentage of incarcerated people have some form of mental illness. This week La Crosse County law enforcement officials will address that issue.

The next edition of the monthly Community Conversations series will focus on the incarceration of the mentally ill in La Crosse County.

The shortage of available mental health care leaves the county jail feeling the effects.

According to La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson, some mentally ill inmates wait months to be transferred to adequate facilities. One inmate referenced was described as dangerous, needing to be in solitary confinement due to their mental illness. Despite the danger to themselves and others, they are on a 70 person wait list to be transferred to a mental health facility.

The conversation aims to help the community understand the challenges officials face. 

“Breaking some of those stereotypes about who those people are,” Sheriff Helgeson describes.

“Helping people realize that often times they aren’t criminals but mentally ill persons who have done something that causes them to find themselves in jail, and jail isn’t the place for those persons. They need to be hospitalized, they need medical treatment.”

Sheriff Helgeson and Circuit Court Judge Scott Horne will address the issue this Wednesday from 12 p.m. until 1 p.m. at the English Lutheran Church in La Crosse.

Peter Lenz

Peter Lenz

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