Mental health advocacy day at the Colorado capitol draws neighbors from near & far

By Renata Hill, Moodfuel

Separating mental illness from the state legal system and finding suitable treatment is a prime focus for these Colorado residents who used their powerful lived experience to advocate for better mental healthcare

About 35 neighbors from around Colorado gathered at the state capitol in Denver Weds. for a Legislative Education & Advocacy Day (LEAD) sponsored by Mental Health Colorado. The theme was “Care Not Cuffs.”

In the morning, they met with state lawmakers to discuss some of the 31 mental health bills moving through the statehouse. Sen. Dylan Roberts, Rep. Judy Amabile and Rep. Kyle Brown listened outside their respective chambers as the attendees urged them to support various bills, such as Adult Competency to Stand Trial (HB 1034) and Persons Detained in Jail on Emergency Commitment (HB 1079).

In keeping with the theme of untangling mental illness from the criminal legal system, several people related personal experiences about their mentally ill relatives' judicial involvement. In Colorado, incarceration is often the only option for people in mental health crises or for those with chronically untreated, serious mental illness (SMI). For at least 400 residents, it means spending six-plus months in jail without treatment or their normal support systems and for the State of Colorado, $1 million per year in fines for violating their legal rights.

An Eagle County mother expressed deep emotional pain and fear for her son, who has languished for 8 months in jail without treatment. Amabile, whose son lives with SMI, cried with her in the antechamber to the House floor. Amabile is the prime sponsor of HB 1034.

During the afternoon, about 100 attendees gathered near the capitol to eat lunch and hear a presentation by Judge Steven Leifman of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit about an innovative diversion program in Florida known as the Criminal Mental Health Project (CMHP). He's an ardent advocate for deflecting people with mental health challenges away from incarceration.

Judge Steven Leifman of Miami-Dade County discusses the Criminal Mental Health Project that he helped to create.

Afterward, four panelists from various Colorado organizations, including SAFER Opportunities (a Mental Health Colorado initiative), Bridges of Colorado, Paragon Behavioral Health Connections and the City of Denver, explained the ways their organizations are untangling mental illness from the state’s legal system.

3 white women & a man sit at a table while another white woman off to the side asks questions: SAFER Opportunities, Bridges of Colorado, Paragon Behavioral Health Connections; City of Denver.

Currently, the three state mental health-related bills involving Colorado's criminal legal system are:

  • Adult Competency to Stand Trial (HB 1034): providing for outpatient treatment services for incarcerated individuals who are waiting to stand trial
    • Status: lodged in the House since its introduction in Jan.
  • Persons Detained in Jail on Emergency Commitment (HB 1079): prohibiting jail as an option for emergency commitments
    • Status: amended and voted on in the House at the end of Feb.
  • Prohibiting Term Excited Delirium (HB 1103): prohibiting the use of the phrase “excited delirium” in first responder trainings, law enforcement incident reports and cause of death listings on death certificates
    • Status: amended and voted on in the House in mid-Feb.

If you are struggling with mental health challenges, call or chat with the 988 Lifeline or take a look at the Moodfuel Resource Guide, confidential and available 24/7 with 1,000+ links to zero-to-low cost programs, groups and listeners statewide.

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Supporting people in recovery from trauma and suicidal intensity is my Why. I live differently abled & am proudly part-Indigenous (Mvskoke).
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