JOINT RELEASE: Transformative Bill to Increase Behavioral Health Access, Divert Coloradans in Need Away from Criminal Justice System Introduced

Legislation invests over $50 million to help folks get treatment for mental health and substance use support 

DENVER, CO – Legislation sponsored by Senators Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) and Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) to make major investments in behavioral health services for individuals in – or at risk of becoming involved in – the criminal justice system was introduced in the Senate this week.

Also sponsored by Representatives Jennifer Bacon (D-Denver) and Adrienne Benavidez (D-Denver), SB22-196 would invest $51.5 million for the Early Intervention, Deflection, and Redirection from the Criminal Justice System Grant Program to help communities prevent people with mental health conditions and substance use disorders from becoming involved with the criminal justice system. The funding would also be used to redirect individuals with behavioral health needs away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate treatment.

“For far too long, Colorado has tried to arrest and jail our way out of the behavioral health crisis, and it simply hasn’t worked,” said Gonzales. “Criminalizing people with behavioral health needs is the most expensive and least effective way to provide mental health care services to the folks who need it most. I am proud of the approaches we take in SB22-196 to intentionally intervene, deflect, and divert people out of the criminal justice system in order to get them the behavioral health resources they need.” 

“We’re working hard to address the root causes of crime in our communities, and it’s clear that a lack of access to behavioral health care paired with the devastation of the pandemic has led to increased crimes of desperation that we can prevent,” said Bacon. “This bill treats behavioral health and substance use disorder as a public health crisis and seeks to prevent people from becoming involved with the criminal justice system by intervening early with the support they need to thrive.”

“Far too many Coloradans with mental health conditions and substance use disorders are struggling in jail cells without proper care and treatment to get them back on their feet, and that is simply unacceptable,” said Lee. “Jailing folks with behavioral health needs will only exacerbate their condition and lead to more recidivism, so we’re proposing measures today to ensure these individuals get the treatment they need before they enter the criminal justice system in the first place.” 

“The pandemic and the economic conditions that followed have put enormous strain on our communities as instability, often from a lack of housing, access to behavioral health or job opportunities, has resulted in rising crime throughout the nation,” said Benavidez. “The legislation we unveiled this week will increase access to critical behavioral health care and substance use treatment to address the root causes of crime in our communities and help Coloradans get the care they need before and while they are in our criminal justice system.”

The bill also includes investments to help the Department of Corrections, the Division of Criminal Justice, and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing support the continuity of care and treatment for individuals in the criminal justice system with opioid use disorders and mental health disorders, as well as investments in the Judicial Department to support pretrial diversion programs designed to keep individuals with behavioral health conditions out of jail.

The bill will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Track the progress of the bill HERE.

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