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In 2019, Boulder County launched the state’s first preliminary filing Mental Health Diversion Program (MHDP) through the collaborative efforts of the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office,
and Community Justice Services. The MHDP, which began as a pilot program, diverts people with behavioral health needs and eligible fees out of jail or court and into treatment and services.
While the MHDP was just getting started, the state cut funding to all pilot sites due to pandemic-related budget constraints. Of the four pilot sites in Colorado, Boulder County was the only jurisdiction to continue the program, receiving temporary emergency funding through a partnership with the county’s human services department.
The DA’s office strongly supports effective diversion programs like the MHDP and is active in efforts to pass legislation to support these important efforts. This included the recent support of a bill that expanded the scope of existing pretrial diversion for adults to include mental health diversion and earmarked additional funding to support these programs. Starting in July 2022, DA’s
The office will have additional funding to not only continue its existing Mental Health Diversion Program, but also to add a second Behavioral Health Navigator so that all ages with moderate to acute mental health needs mental, often with co-occurring disorders, who are open to getting help.
The mission is to connect people with the behavioral health justice system, increase access to services stability and reduce reoffending and reduce prison overcrowding and incarceration, as well as prosecution costs. This population is targeted because so many people involved in the criminal justice system struggle with mental illness, that adults with severe mental illness are often arrested for low-level crimes that are motivated by their illness rather than by intent to harm, and that community -Mental health-based services lead to better treatment outcomes and are more cost-effective than involving the incarceration and criminal justice system.
Time in custody can further destabilize people experiencing a mental health crisis who do not pose a risk to public safety but who, without treatment, may continue to commit crimes. MHDP
takes a different approach to deterring people cycling through the system. MHDP participants work with our two Behavioral Health Navigators to connect with community agencies and access resources for mental health and substance use treatment, medical and dental care, Medicaid, housing, food stamps, basic needs and other supports to gain stability. Behavioral Health Navigators build a collaborative relationship with diversion participants to work in these areas of stability, while also using restorative justice practices to support personal accountability and facilitate repair of the harm that was caused by their offending.
MHDP is seeing great results and receiving positive feedback from clients and the community. Since its inception, the MHDP has served 121 people and, in 2021, 92% of clients successfully completed the program to be expunged. Clients self-report feeling supported throughout the process and having someone to turn to when connecting with resources. Clients also say that MHDP has helped them make positive choices and opened up opportunities they would not have had otherwise.
Many say they now have hope that they will be able to have a positive future. With the addition of the Behavioral Health Navigator, this successful program will serve additional participants. Individuals to stabilize, go on the right path and not engage in criminal behavior. Colorado ranks poorly when compared to other states in access to mental health care. Our state’s apparent lack of mental health care may result in increased contact with the justice system for some individuals. “Expanding this successful and innovative program is the right thing to do.”
As an example, an individual admitted to the MHDP in 2020 had over 100 arrests in 2019, meaning that he had spent at least 100 days and nights in detention without treatment for many
misdemeanor. After connecting to services through MHDP, he had only one arrest in all of 2020. This serves the public interest in many ways by reserving prison resources for individuals who
present an active risk to public safety and reducing the risk level of this individual.
Because of , he is no longer experiencing further decompensation due to incarceration. He has remained sheltered, has resources for food, is connected to services so that he no longer receives emergency medical care, and is close to being stable for employment. A second individual was under 30 years of age with a significant history of mental health, substance use disorder, and homelessness. This individual was the first felony referral to MHDP and the decision was supported by the DA’s Office, Public Defender, jail and law enforcement. The individual was able to reconnect with their family to have a safe place to stay, connect with community mental health, and begin working to gain stability. This individual, and many individuals, will have their ups and downs as they work to gain stability, but it’s amazing how partners across Boulder County come together to support those who need the most support.
District Attorney’s Office
20th Judicial District
PO Box 471
Boulder, CO 80306
303.441.3804 (direct office)