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It is a known fact, in Colorado and across the nation, that many people suffering from behavioral health issues are shunted toward the criminal justice system, rather than toward the behavioral health treatment they need.

With the state’s approach to behavioral health and access to mental health services under closer scrutiny in the past several months, on Thursday, the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee gave unanimous approval to Sen. Pete Lee’s (D-Colorado Springs) bipartisan legislation to expand a pretrial diversion program and help more Coloradans with behavioral health conditions get the treatment they need.

Co-sponsored by Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa), SB22-010 would empower District Attorneys to divert certain 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 illness 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 Senator 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.”

The Judiciary Committee also unanimously voted to advance SB22-021, sponsored by Senators Lee and [Pete] Rodriguez, which renames and expands the scope of the Legislative Oversight Committee Concerning the Treatment of Persons with Behavioral Health Disorders in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems, from “persons with mental health disorders” to “people with behavioral health disorders.”

The bill further changes the scope of the committee and its associated task force to address the treatment of Coloradans with behavioral health disorders in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and extends the committee’s work until 2027.

SB22-010 now moves to the Senate floor for further consideration, while SB22-021 heads to the Appropriations Committee. Track the progress of SB22-010 here, and SB22-021 here.