Daviess County has been selected as one of 11 counties to participate in a pilot program that will divert some people charged with crimes to behavioral health treatment.
If successful, the defendant will have his criminal charge dismissed, officials from the Courts Administration Office and the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities told county officials Monday morning.
The behavioral health conditional dismissal program was created by Senate Bill 90, which passed lawmakers earlier this year. The bill allowed eligible defendants to have their criminal charges thrown out if they completed drug or mental health treatment.
The state and Daviess County already have court-sponsored programs that provide defendants with drug or mental health treatment, such as Rocket Docket, Drug Court, and Mental Health Court.
But these programs are for people who have already pleaded guilty, been found guilty, or accepted the information presented against them in the Rocket Docket case. The new program is different, in that people would be referred to the program without having pleaded guilty.
“The defendant is not required to plead guilty,” and in fact, cannot plead guilty under the program, said Angela Darcy, executive director of the AOC’s Department of Pre-Trial Services.
“If they don’t complete the program, the charges start immediately” in court, Darcy said.
To determine who is eligible for the program, defendants will need to be consulted very early in the court process, ideally while they are still incarcerated after the initial arrest, Darcy said.
To be eligible, a defendant must be at least 18 years old, must not be facing a charge that would fall under the state’s violent offender statue or a sexual offense, must not have a Class A, B, or C felony history, must be assessed as low risk to re-offend or skip court dates and must be recognized as having a recognized behavioral health disorder.
Restrictions are narrow by design.
The hope is that officials will use what they learn during the four-year pilot program to expand it to more defendants, said Wendy Morris, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Kentucky historically ranks 45th in mental health service funding, Morris said.
The state has allocated $10.5 million for each year of the pilot program for the 11 counties, although many participants are expected to be covered by Medicaid, Darcy said.
If a defendant does not meet the requirements, they can still be placed in the program through an agreement between prosecutors and defense counsel. A prosecutor must consult with the victim, if there was a victim involved in the charge, and a prosecutor can object to a person being placed in the program.
Eligibility assessment will be done by the services before trial, and screening to determine if the defendant has a substance abuse or mental disorder will be done by a clinician.
Daviess Circuit Judge Lisa Payne Jones, a member of the state Implementation Council who will assess and make changes to the program, said the program was needed and that “our prisons have become mental health hospitals. “.
Statewide, “there are maybe 20% of inmates who have serious mental health issues” in prisons, while even more have less severe mental health issues, Jones said. At the Daviess County Detention Center, between 300 and 400 inmates are believed to have mental health issues, Jones said.
Inmates with mental health issues can languish in jail “for lack of a better option”, she said.
Other counties in the pilot program include Kenton, Greenup, Letcher, Clark, McCracken, Pulaski, Madison, Oldham, Hopkins and Christian counties.
“By the end of year four, (legislators) want this to be a successful program” that can be funded statewide, Darcy said.
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