By Jennifer Brown
It soon will be against the law in Colorado to lock people in jail when they are picked up on mental health holds.
The legislation signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday also increases funds for a network of crisis-response teams, walk-in mental health treatment centers and transportation to treatment from rural areas. The legislation, which takes effect Aug. 9, was passed in combination with a state human services department budget request to spend $9.5 million in marijuana tax funds, which will pay for two-person mobile crisis teams to intervene in mental health-related police calls, among other new services.
Colorado had been one of only six states that allowed putting people who are suicidal or having mental health episodes behind bars. The law, Senate Bill 17-207, bans the use of jails to house people who are a “danger to themselves or others” but have not committed any crime.
“This bill is a huge step toward removing the stigma associated with mental health crises,” one of the legislation’s sponsors, Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said in an emailed statement. “We want people to know that a crisis is not a crime, and that they can get the help they need in times of emergency.”
When health facilities are full, police and sheriff’s departments across Colorado detain suicidal people in jail until a bed is available or the person is no longer in mental health crisis.
Current state law allows for detainment in a jail for up to 24 hours for a person on a mental health hold. Within a day, the person must go to a health facility for evaluation and treatment, but in rural areas, the nearest mental health center often is hours away. The situation leaves sheriff’s departments with three options: driving the person to another town and leaving the community with one fewer law officer; holding the person in jail; or releasing the person back to the community.