Colorado would Outlaw Using Jails for Mental Health Holds, Increase Services Under $9.5 Million Proposal

Two-person teams would intervene on police calls to redirect people to treatment


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A $9.5 million proposal would outlaw locking people in jail when they are picked up on mental health holds and bolster the state’s network of crisis-response teams, walk-in treatment centers and transportation from rural Colorado.

A bill under consideration at the statehouse would ban the use of jails to house people who are a “danger to themselves or others” but have not committed any crime. Colorado is one of only six states that allows putting people who are suicidal or having mental health episodes behind bars.

“It’s a massive injustice,” said Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Denver Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “It only makes a person’s mental health far, far worse to be not only in a state of crisis but now in jail.”

The legislation, combined with state human services department requests for marijuana tax funds totaling $9.5 million, describes a multilayered plan to provide better treatment for people with mental illness. The funds would support two-person mobile crisis teams, including a law officer and a behavioral health specialist, to intervene on mental health-related police calls and de-escalate situations more appropriate for mental health treatment than arrest.

The proposals also call for expansion of prebooking criminal justice diversion programs to treat mental illness, as well as additional training for law enforcement and other first responders. And they would expand crisis stabilization centers to make sure they can help people 24 hours per day and are closer to rural areas.

“You can’t do away with using jails without having other options,” said the legislation’s other lead sponsor, Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.

A mental health hold is an “involuntary civil detention” of a person who has not committed a crime but is a danger to themselves or others. People can be held for up to 72 hours, though an evaluation can result in a longer commitment in a mental health facility.