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The O’Connor Corner: CO Legal


Mental Health Diversion.

“It’s why we started the mental health diversion program . . . . Brent . . . has been arrested 35 times in the last five years. . . . He shared with me he has a mental health disorder. We have to do better for him. We have to do better for our community.”

District Attorney Michael Dougherty shared this at a forum in June. He described to attendees the work he has been doing to implement a program to get people who need and qualify for mental health assistance out of the criminal justice system and into mental health services.

Such pre-trial diversion will help people like Brent and reduce the strain on Boulder’s overpopulated jail, sometimes holding nearly twice the number of people it was designed for.

To participate in the program, people with a possible mental illness would go through a short mental health screening process with a nurse. Those with certain charges, such as domestic violence or assault, would not qualify. On a voluntary basis, a pre-trial mental health navigator would conduct a more thorough assessment.

Dougherty is working with, among others, Sheriff Pelle, Boulder County Community Justice Services, and the Public Defenders Office and has secured grant funding from both the State and Federal Government.

Support Services Commander Tim Oliveira at the Sheriff’s Office is heading up the implementation team, and hopes the funding will support 2.5 positions, including the pre-trial mental health navigator. Additionally, he says they are looking for multiple community partners that can provide mental health services, stressing that this will not be a one-size-fits-all program.

Oliveira stressed that individuals will be treated on a case by case basis aiming for the best chance at successful treatment and diversion out of the justice system. With such treatment, people like Brent will stop cycling in and out of jail as their mental health issues are addressed.

Individuals may receive support with transportation and text messages reminding them of upcoming appointments.

It looks promising that this effort will achieve the goal laid out by District Attorney Dougherty for people like Brent: the County will do better for him, and for the community.

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