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June 6, 2024

SIGNED! Bipartisan Legislation to Reduce Competency Waitlist Becomes Law

DENVER, CO – Governor Polis today signed into law legislation that will reduce Colorado’s competency waitlist and improve efficiency and effectiveness in the competency system.

Last year, Colorado had 448 people who were deemed to be incompetent to proceed by a court and were waiting to receive competency restoration services before proceeding to trial, with an average wait time of 66 days. HB24-1355, sponsored by Representatives Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, and Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, and Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, aims to reduce this competency waitlist through the creation of the Bridges Wraparound Care Program, which will refer eligible individuals with mental health struggles from the criminal justice system into wraparound care services.

“The waitlist for competency services is so long that people who have not yet been found guilty of a crime are in jail longer than people who have been convicted,” said Mabrey. “This legislation will help address Colorado’s broken competency system so we can provide mental health services to people who need them. Not only will this better serve our most vulnerable, but it will also make our communities safer.”

“Colorado’s exorbitantly long competency waitlist is a long-standing issue, and I’m proud that this year we’re advancing policy to start addressing the problem,” said Michaelson Jenet. “When individuals languish on the competency waitlist, they’re not receiving the treatment they need and their likelihood to reenter the criminal justice system greatly increases. The Bridges Wraparound Care Program offers folks a path forward that ensures their needs are being met while helping break the cycle of reoffense and reentry in our criminal justice system.”

“People with mental health struggles are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and they desperately need services,” said Amabile. “When a mental health disorder is left untreated, Coloradans are often sent to jail for a relatively low offense, limiting their ability to rehabilitate. Routing people to diversion programs instead of the competency system connects them to mental health services that can help prevent a crisis and reduce recidivism.”

A defendant is deemed eligible for the Bridges Wraparound Care Program if a district attorney and defense counsel agree that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant will be found incompetent and if the defendant does not pose a risk to public safety. Allowing eligible defendants to participate in the program will give them access to critical behavioral health services while helping reduce Colorado’s recidivism rates. 

Under HB24-1355, if a defendant in the Program complies with their individualized care plan for a specified amount of time, the court must dismiss the charges against the defendant.

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