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Petition for change: Barry advocates for change of view on mental health

Fergus Falls Daily Journal - 12/19/2018

Dec. 19--Fergus Falls resident Tim Barry has spent the last four years devoted to finding a solution to the systematic problem that has trapped his daughter in the correctional system.

Tim picks his daughter up from prison, attends court dates, and at age 55, is raising two young granddaughters. More recently, he has taken up a new cause -- changing the system he believes is keeping his daughter in prisons and jails rather than getting her the help she needs.

Tim's daughter Cassondra Barry was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has struggled with drug issues for many years. When she was 26 and a new mother, she had a massive stroke due to drug use. This left her with no use of her frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for impulse control among other things. The stroke also resulted in a blood clot in her leg, which had to be amputated.

"She woke up three months later with half a brain, no leg, and a new baby girl," Tim said.

Cassondra has had a hard time staying out of prison ever since. Tim believes this is directly related to the lack of impulse control that resulted from her stroke.

Earlier this year, Tim decided to walk from Moorhead to the State Capitol to raise awareness for the way mental health is treated in the correctional system.

"All I got from that was two pant sizes smaller," Tim said.

Tim's walk landed him in St. Paul at the end of the legislative session, which didn't bode well for him. He did serve as a citizen advocate for the Department of Human Services and has told his and Cassondra's story to many legislators and DHS employees in St. Paul. Tim delivered a letter to the Minnesota Senate and House with 202 signatures looking for a re-evaluation of the mental health system in Minnesota. He has reached out to the Health and Human Services Finance Committee via Mary Franson. Tim has yet to find answers to his questions or an elected official to take on his plight.

According to Tim, one DHS employee told him, "Your daughter is the poster child for a broken system."

Today Cassondra faces more legal trouble, three pending cases in Clay County, all charges stemming from time in court-ordered detox and jail.

Now Tim has a new idea of how to get the attention of the Minnesota Legislature. He created a petition asking the state to look at how they address mental health in Minnesota and in the criminal justice system.

Tim began by asking anyone to sign his petition but has moved on to focus on law enforcement, elected officials, jail employees, city clerks, and others who witness the criminal-justice system after asking Fergus Falls Chief of Public Safety Kile Bergren for his signature.

Bergren was happy to sign the petition and said he and Tim agree on many things about the mental-health system.

"He and I agreed there is a need to go back to regional treatment centers," Bergren said. "Hopefully, they will listen to citizens and we have to have places for acute care for mental health and that's really what regional treatment centers are for."

Bergren said there used to be options for those facing mental-health issues but now the two options are the ER or jail.

"I think there were a lot of bad decisions that were made," Bergren said. "I think people thought the problem would go away when the treatment centers went away, but that didn't happen."

One signature that Tim is particularly excited about is that of Minnesota Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who Tim has spoken to extensively about his daughter and his thoughts about the mental health system.

Tim knows exactly what type of criminal-justice system and mental-health system he wants for the state of Minnesota if the Legislature acknowledges his petition. Tim discovered a policy paper titled, "Decriminalization of Mental Illness: Fixing a Broken System" written by the state's attorney for Michigan, Milton L. Mack Jr.

The paper sets up policy that intervenes long before someone with mental-health issues commits a crime and is swept up into the criminal-justice system.

"The problem we have now is the system is set up to not intervene until someone is in crisis," Mack said. "We have to change the standard for intervention. There is plenty of warning that the train is going off the track. We wait and we don't intervene and the person is charged with a crime."

Mack asks the government to intervene for mentally ill citizens who may be in danger of future harm and divert them into outpatient treatment before a crime is committed.

Currently, health code only allows intervention when someone is considered a danger to themselves or others, or a crime has been committed, leaving a small window where something can be done.

"My training as a judge did not teach me to see the future," Mack said. "It did teach me to assess the present. Our mental health codes are simply out of date. Its an inpatient system for an outpatient world."

Also part of Mack's policy is something called "Sequential Intercept Model" which diverts those who have committed low-level crimes such as misdemeanors into treatment rather than prosecution. The person can always be prosecuted later for that crime if treatment is unsuccessful.

For Tim, the focus sits primarily on his daughter, and if there is a way to help her out of the criminal-justice system she has been cycling through over the last four years.


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