“I Hope He Gets Help:” Mental Health Treatment in the Court System

The sentence handed down to an 18-year-old man in Lincoln County Wednesday is spotlighting the issue of mental health in the justice system

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.- The sentence handed down to an 18-year-old man in Lincoln County Wednesday is spotlighting the issue of mental health in the justice system.

Mason Buhl was ordered to commit to a “mental health program” as part of his sentence after he pled guilty to attempted murder in the 2015 shooting of Harrisburg High School’s former principal Dr. Kevin Lein.

The day after he was shot in the arm by then 16-year-old Buhl, Lein expressed hope that his attacker could receive help.

“My deep prayers to Mason, my deep prayers to his family, it’s really going to be a tragic road for them, I’m sure. I hope he’s okay, and I hope he might get the help as soon as possible he might need,” Lein said on October 1, 2015.

In addition to 25 years suspended and 15 years of probation, Buhl is requited to commit to a mental health treatment program as part of his sentence.

“We’re trying more and more and more to get people the help they need versus throw them in jail and lock them up,” said April Bolton, Associate Director of Counseling at Lutheran Social Services.

Bolton knows mental health is just as important as physical health, and strong mental health often starts at a young age. Bolton’s team of counselors often visits elementary schools in the area to teach younger students how to identify and manage their emotions.

“We want to reach those kids to try to teach them skills so that they don’t have issues later in life, essentially. Like of a proactive thing,” she says.

“A lot of times when they’re a teenager they learn other things, we call them ‘maladaptive coping mechanisms.’ So, you’re going to do things to hurt yourself or hurt others because you’re hurting, yourself. Like you’re sad or you’re depressed you don’t know how to deal with this depression or this anxiety.”

In Mason Buhl’s case, mental health has been at the forefront of his court proceedings.

Buhl was ordered to undergo mental health examinations to assess his competency to stand trial.

After pleading guilty to attempted murder, Buhl was ordered to commit to a mental health program as part of his sentence.

It’s a treatment Bolton says could help to rehabilitate him.

“I think especially when you’re talking a young kid, someone 16, 17 years old, and I don’t know all the details of this case, but yeah, why don’t we try the aspect of giving him some help first, and see if that helps? And see what happens, so maybe he can go and have a productive life.”