SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Officials in South Dakota are establishing a fund to speed up mental-health screenings for criminal defendants.

The effort aims to find ways to improve how mentally ill defendants interact with the criminal justice system, The Argus Leader ( ) reported. The fund will be overseen by the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners.

Department of Social Services spokeswoman Tia Kafka said the state agency is working with the Association of County Commissioners to give counties funding that had previously been given to the Human Services Center for court-ordered forensic evaluation.

Executive Director Bob Wilcox said that in order to qualify counties will submit an application to his office detailing the cost for a competency screening.

"This is going to be a really positive shot in the arm to help with these costs and a very welcomed relief," Wilcox said.

Currently, the state's resources for mental competency evaluations are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Kafka said the funds will give counties more flexibility for competency evaluations.

Wendy Giebink is the executive director of the South Dakota Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She said having such a fund could help lessen the wait time for criminal defendants' evaluation.

"If that decreases the amount of time they are waiting in jail and not receiving mental health treatment in their communities, it will be helpful," Giebink said. "We know that being incarcerated can make people with mental illness sicker, and jail is not the appropriate place for them to get medical treatment."


Information from: Argus Leader,