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Lawmakers Debate Overhaul In Mental Crisis Treatment

DENVER (CBS4)- State lawmakers are debating a massive overhaul in how people going through a mental crisis are treated in Colorado. The bill has bipartisan support.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is behind a $9 million plan that would end the practice of putting people in crisis, in jail. The funding would come from marijuana sales tax.

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Colorado is only one of six states that still jails people for no other reason than the fact that they suffer from a mental illness.

The lawmakers sponsoring a bill to change that say it's necessary because mental illness is not a crime.

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It's been 60 years since mental health institutions closed their doors but jail cells have replaced the facilities in many situations.

"I was terrified. I was like, 'Why? Why are you doing this to me? I've done nothing wrong,'" said Jennifer Hill.

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Hill was held against her will for no other reason than a mental illness.

"When people have a stroke, we get them to a medical facility. When they have a head injury, we get them to a medical facility and we treat them with care and compassion. So it's not unfathomable to do this with people who have mental health conditions," said Hill.

Hickenlooper agrees, "For us not to do anything in a way it's immoral but it's also just bad government."

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CBS4's Shaun Boyd interviews Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Last year the governor vetoed a bill that would have lengthened mental health holds in jails. Instead he charged a task force with finding a humane solution.

Their work helped create a bill by state Senators Daniel Kagan, a Democrat representing Englewood and John Cooke, a Republican representing Weld County.

"These folks have not committed a crime but they are finding themselves being treated like criminals and what this bill seeks to do is decriminalize mental illness," said Kagan.

CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd interviews Sen. Daniel Kagan (D) Englewood and Sen. John Cooke (R) Weld County (credit: CBS)

The legislation creates the first-ever crisis response system in Colorado which bars the use of jails, builds a network of mobile treatment teams with two hour response times and aims to vastly expand services and staffing at walk-in centers across the state.

"Especially in rural areas or on the Western Slope. Grand Junction has one facility with 20 beds for the entire Western Slope," said Cooke.

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"People with mental health conditions deserve compassionate services just like everyone else," said Hill.

Mental Health Colorado says that while thousands of Coloradans are put on involuntary holds each year, the amount in jails is unknown because deputies don't book them. The organization offers free mental health screenings that evaluate mental illness on their website.


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