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Governor Jared Polis signed bipartisan legislation into law on Monday that would expand a pretrial diversion program to help more Coloradans with behavioral health conditions get the treatment they need. The bill is sponsored by Senators Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, as well as Representatives Adrienne Benavidez, D-Commerce City, and Judy Amabile, D-Boulder.

SB22-010 will empower District Attorneys to divert eligible individuals away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate community treatment programs, reducing recidivism and preventing further criminal behavior.

“A jail cell is no place for someone with a mental health condition or substance use disorder. Diverting folks away from the criminal justice system and into community programs will ensure individuals in crisis are met with treatment, not punishment,” said Lee. “Expanding our existing pretrial diversion program to include individuals with behavioral health disorders means we’ll soon be able to extend critical aid to even more folks in need.”

“Coloradans with serious mental health conditions or substance use disorders need treatment, not jail time,” said Benavidez. “I am thankful Governor Polis signed our bill into law that will help break the recidivism cycle so Coloradans can receive care instead of waiting behind bars. We need to intervene early to address Colorado’s escalating behavioral health crisis and this bill expands our pretrial diversion program to connect Coloradans with the lifesaving care they need.”

If such a law had been in place a few years ago the outcome for Chaffee resident Dillon Kimberlin might have been a bit different. Back in 2019 Ark Valley Voice covered the case of excessive force that had occurred in 2016 when Kimberlin, desperate to get help for drug abuse, ended up back in trouble with law enforcement instead. At the time, he said he felt it was the only way he could see to ensure he’d be put back in jail to get help. But along the way witnesses describe a case of excessive force against him by Chaffee County and City of Salida law enforcement.

“Coloradans can spend years in jail awaiting critical care, and during that time, their behavioral health deteriorates,” said Amabile. “This law expands our state’s pretrial diversion program so Coloradans with mental illness or substance use disorders can receive the lifesaving treatment they need. Community treatment programs are some of the best tools we have to improve behavioral health outcomes, and our law directs Coloradans toward treatment instead of jail.”

Featured image: The peril of drug addiction are real. Image by Thrive Global.