SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's state-run psychiatric hospital is no longer performing court-ordered mental health screenings for criminal defendants.

Department of Social Services spokeswoman Tia Kafka told the Argus Leader ( ) the Human Services Center discontinued their evaluations July 1 because legislation transferred funding for them to counties.

The legislation was in response to a 2015 investigation by the newspaper that found the state routinely jailed defendants for months without trial because of scheduling delays for the evaluations, which are required to determine if defendants are mentally fit to stand trial.

The center, located in Yankton, had become a bottleneck in recent years as the number of mental health exams requested by judges exceeded the number the hospital was willing to perform.

The Social Services Department and the Association of County Commissioners are creating a fund to help counties hire private doctors to perform the evaluations. Court administrators were working with the department to identify mental health professionals who are qualified to give the evaluations.

"Here in the Second Circuit, the list provided by Social Services so far only gives us two providers in this area," said Karl Thoennes, who manages the court system in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties. "So this circuit has assembled its own list that we will forward the state court administrator and DSS at some point."

Minnehaha County Commissioner Cindy Heiberger attended the first meeting of a watchdog committee assigned to make sure the state's mental health reforms are working. She said she doesn't think a lot will change because judges still will order competency evaluations for defendants, but the Human Services Center won't be the one administering them.


Information from: Argus Leader,