Colorado Police Paired with Mental Health Professionals to Encourage Addiction Treatment

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Updated 04/05/2023

A man arrested, his hands restrained at the back with a pair of handcuffs

Colorado officials are changing the way they deal with low-level drug offenders who also struggle with mental illness. Officials are working to fund diversion programs so that these addicts can get treatment instead of being put into the criminal justice system for their first offense.

This year, $5.3 million will go toward funding these diversion programs, with $16 million in funding being allocated over the next three years in Colorado.

“For Colorado, this is a brand new way of thinking,” Jagruti Shah, human services department director of criminal justice services told the Denver Post. “What you currently are seeing with a lot of these individuals with behavioral health issues is they keep circling. You have law enforcement addressing mental health and substance-use issues as opposed to patrolling and stopping crime.”

Several new initiatives are allowing law enforcement to better deal with these offenders, who often cycle through a criminal justice intervention and back into drug use because they have not received adequate treatment for their addiction and mental health problems.

Ride-Alongs and Case Managers Funnel Services Where Needed

One new Colorado program sends mental health professionals to ride along with officers when responding to 911 calls and even on some routine patrols in areas where drug use is commonplace. Having mental health expertise an arm’s length away can change the way low-level offenders are handled and can help get some into treatment before criminal justice intervention is needed.

In some cases, case managers are even being put into high-crime areas to deal with low-level drug use, prostitution, and other offenders so that police can concentrate their efforts in other areas. Instead of clogging the courts and prisons with drug addicts who committed minor offenses, these addicts can be offered treatment as a way out of a lifestyle in which they may feel trapped.

A huge advantage to using mental health professionals and case managers is that follow-up becomes possible, making the consistency of response easier to achieve. These professionals can also help de-escalate dangerous situations and prevent violence when possible.

A lawyer and client in a meeting, with the lawyer signing on the paper and a court gavel beside them

Diversion programs keep non-violent drug offenders out of jail and get them treatment instead.

Benefits of Diversion Programs

In the latest figures available, $94 million was spent in Colorado to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders, and diversion programs can help some of those get treatment so they do not continue to commit crimes. Studies have shown that 40 percent of Colorado inmates need mental health treatment and 74 percent need drug abuse treatment.

If some of these needs are addressed by diversion programs, those programs may end up paying for themselves or even decreasing the amount of money Colorado needs to spend on treating and incarcerating low-level drug offenders.

Another benefit of diversion programs is that they keep offenders off the streets, which prevents nuisance crimes and makes people more likely to patronize businesses in these areas. Any program that gets those struggling with addiction into much-needed treatment is bound to have numerous benefits for society beyond even the ones already discussed.

Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado drug rehab that provides comprehensive treatment services to those struggling with addiction, including those with co-occurring disorders that include mental illness. Learn about admissions to Recovery Village at Palmer Lake to see how we can help you or a loved one start the journey to recovery.

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