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News Archive

October 18, 2018

New Boulder County criminal justice system programs respond to community needs

Programs will assist people with mental health and opioid abuse issues

Boulder County, Colo. - Boulder County Community Justice Services (CJS), in conjunction with the Boulder County Jail, the Boulder County District Attorney’s office and Boulder County Public Health are instituting two new innovative programs in early 2019 to help keep people with mental health issues out of the jail system, and to assist clients who suffer from opioid abuse problems.

The programs will help to ensure jail use for violent offenders by developing a system-wide coordinated approach to safely reduce the prevalence of low risk individuals in the Boulder County Jail. Both programs are being funded by recent grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Monica Rotner, Boulder County Community Justice Services Division Manager notes, “Boulder County has been innovatively seeking opportunities to address our population’s mental health and substance abuse needs outside of the criminal justice system. These grant dollars provide a tremendous mechanism for accomplishing this goal.”

The Mental Health Pre-File Diversion Program is designed to identify individuals who are accused of low-level criminal offenses and are struggling with mental health issues, and divert them out of the criminal justice system. It is not uncommon for individuals facing mental health problems to get arrested on misdemeanor and petty offense charges such as trespassing, theft, criminal mischief or disorderly conduct. The goal of the new Mental Health Pre-File Diversion program is to keep these offenders out of jail, and instead connect them with the appropriate mental health and social service resources, while keeping them out of future contact with the justice system. This program is being funded by a two-year grant totaling $346,512 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

“Unfortunately, all too often, there is a lack of community resources to provide treatment and support,” says Michael Dougherty, Boulder County District Attorney. “In the criminal justice system, far too many defendants enter the system due to a mental health crisis. For them, and for the welfare of our community, our justice system must more effectively respond to mental health issues. I am excited about launching our new Mental Health Pre-File Diversion Program.”

Boulder County prosecutors, public defenders and sheriff's staff will team together on the diversion program. Once the program begins, when an offender arrives at the Boulder County Jail they will be screened by jail medical personnel for mental health issues. Potential participants must be facing only lower level charges to qualify for the program. An individual whose assessment shows a possibility of mental health issues and who meets the charge criteria will be referred to the CJS Pre-File Diversion Navigator for further assessment and evaluation. Those who are accepted into the program will be connected with the appropriate mental health agency or service provider, and released from custody without charges being filed. The Navigator will continue to monitor those in the program for 12 months to track engagement with mental health services, and support reengagement as necessary. Restitution and Restorative Justice may be required of those participating in the program.

“Incarcerating people with mental health issues on low level crimes does nothing to improve or change their behavior, it may make it worse. It certainly does not accomplish anything in regard to improved public safety,” notes Joe Pelle, Boulder County Sheriff. “Engaging these individuals in treatment is our best opportunity to improve outcomes both for the client and the public, and to stop the expensive cycle of repeated incarceration so often seen with this population.”

The new Opioid Abuse Diversion and Navigation Program is a response to the opioid epidemic taking place in Boulder County. On average, more than 30 people die of opioid-related accidental overdose each year in Boulder County, making overdose deaths the leading cause of accidental deaths in the county – surpassing motor vehicle deaths. In addition, the county jail’s medical unit treats about 1,200 inmates every year who need medical services related to opioid and/or methamphetamine use, including providing safe medical detoxing during incarceration. The new Opioid Abuse Diversion and Navigation Program will help reduce the overall number of individuals with opioid use disorders from either entering or deepening their involvement with the criminal justice system, by connecting them with the appropriate treatment and recovery support services after their arrest. This program will also provide navigation and support services throughout the Boulder County justice system. This program will be funded by a three-year, $861,569 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

“Most often, opioid use begins as a result of a medical injury but becomes an addiction that is physiologically hard to beat,” says Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health Executive Director. “This program will help individuals get the treatment they need to get back to the life they planned and out of the criminal justice system for good.”

The new Opioid Abuse Diversion and Navigation Program will include an opioid screening and criminal risk assessment for all offenders during jail bookings, pretrial jail-based treatment services for those not released on bond, and post-jail connections to appropriate treatment services. The program is designed to link opioid users with targeted treatment and recovery support services; reduce jail bed days and drug-related recidivism; reduce impacts to other systems of care such as emergency room visits and social programs; and ultimately to lower the rates of opioid mortality in the county.