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October 24, 2023

JOINT RELEASE: Interim Committee Bills to Improve Mental Health and Substance Use Resources Advance

Colorado Democrats Advance Bills to Boost Community-Based Treatment and Resources to Prevent Crime and Reduce Recidivism

DENVER, CO - The Treatment of Persons with Behavioral Health Disorders in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems interim committee today advanced five bills to improve access to court diversion programs, increase funding for Colorado’s 911 Resource Center, dispatch community-based mental health professionals to youth and families experiencing a behavioral health crisis, clarify the process for defendants who are found by a court to be incompetent to stand trial, and ensure that individuals are not held in jails if they haven’t committed a crime.

Bill 2, sponsored by Representatives Judy Amabile and Regina English and Senator Rhonda Fields, would remove jails as an option for substance use disorder commitments when no crime has been committed. Under the bill, local law enforcement agencies would submit a quarterly report to the Behavioral Health Administration regarding how many people have been taken into protective custody, how long they were in treatment, where they were treated, and other data.

“Correctional facilities shouldn’t be the largest provider of mental health treatment in our state,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, sponsor of Bills 2, 3, and 5. “Our bills will remove jails as treatment providers when no crime has been committed, boost funding and resources for judicial districts to alleviate pressure on our jail systems, and keep individuals in their community while they work through a behavioral or mental health treatment plan created by a licensed mental health professional. These changes will help drive down recidivism, get people the treatment services they need, and more quickly bring justice to victims of crimes.”

“Coloradans seeking help deserve to be met with well-resourced, comprehensive services and reliable responses,” said Senator Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, sponsor of all five bills. “The legislation I am bringing forward next session will boost resources across a variety of services to ensure that crisis responders and judicial employees are operating efficiently and that Coloradans can continue to rely on these essential community services. I look forward to carrying these bills to guarantee that Coloradans can receive help whenever, wherever, and however they need it.“

Bill 3, sponsored by Representatives Judy Amabile and Mary Bradfield and Senator Rhonda Fields, would help address our competency backlog by allowing us to get defendants who are not able to be restored to competency into appropriate treatment more quickly.

“Increasing treatment services for substance abuse disorders in our criminal justice system will reduce recidivism rates and offer the tools people need to successfully reenter society,” said Rep. Regina English, D-Colorado Springs, sponsor of Bills 2, 4, and 6. “By offering these services, we can address the root causes of crime and give Coloradans a better chance at a thriving future. We’re also allocating money to help Colorado’s 911 Resource Center properly staff their workplaces and give workers the information and training they need to respond to calls more effectively.”

Colorado’s 911 Resource Center supports first responders across the state. Public safety answering points, commonly known as call centers, play an important role by gathering important information for law enforcement, fire departments, and EMS during a call and providing critical de-escalation services before first responders show up on the scene. Bill 4, sponsored by Senator Rhonda Fields and Representative Regina English, would fund the Colorado 911 Resource Center so it can continue to provide services and training to public safety answering points.

Bill 5, sponsored by Representatives Judy Amabile and Mary Bradfield and Senators Rhonda Fields and Rod Pelton, would codify and expand the Crisis Resolution Team program to provide mobile crisis responses for youth and their families, using community-based services to de-escalate and stabilize Colorado youth during a behavioral health crisis. Additional services would include counseling or therapy, case management to help meet treatment plans, peer support or family skills coaching, medication management, and care coordination.

The committee also advanced Bill 6, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez and Senator Rhonda Fields and Representatives Regina English and Mary Bradfield. Currently, district attorneys can use an assessment tool to identify individuals who are eligible to be diverted away from the juvenile or criminal justice system and into appropriate services. This bill expands eligible individuals to include juveniles and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as those with behavioral health issues, and adds behavioral health services and services for adults and juveniles with developmental disabilities to the list of available diversion services.

“Young people and adults who struggle with developmental disabilities or behavioral health issues too often become involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system,” Majority Leader Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver, sponsor of Bill 6 said. “This bill will require DAs to consider a young person's mental or behavioral health status when determining if they are eligible for diversion services.”

The five bills will now go to the Legislative Council for approval before being introduced next session. Once introduced in the 2024 session, interim bills will follow the legislative process in the same manner as all other bills.

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