I can't believe that they are getting this done in Greeley before we can get it done in Denver. I am thrilled that it's finally happening somewhere...
If Weld County criminal justice officials are successful, scofflaws with mental health or drug problems might soon have a place to go instead of jail.
Proponents say the county's pilot program will help inmates who might need more aid than punishment, and it will ease some of the crowding at the overpopulated jail.
Starting this month, accused criminals who meet specific criteria will be considered for the In-Custody Alternative Placement Program, called ICAPP, which involves prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation, law enforcement, North Range Behavioral Health, Island Grove Treatment Center and Avalon, which runs the Villa halfway house.
Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said he hopes the program is running in the next few weeks.
"We'll have maybe 100 folks a year that are not sitting in the jail and are getting treated," he said.
The Colorado Legislature is looking at similar options statewide, and state Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, is on a legislative oversight committee that is reviewing them.
The committee oversees a panel tasked with examining treatment of inmates with mental health problems.
"There are numerous people that are in our prisons that probably don't belong there; they should be in more of a mental facility and getting help that way," Renfroe said. "And it's unfortunate -- they've showed us the different costs you have in treating someone at the different places."
In Weld, however, money won't be a problem, Buck said. Grants and redirected money have made funding the program relatively easy.
The Weld program's genesis was a combination of factors, the largest being the crowded jail. Additionally, attorneys in the DA's office and the Colorado Public Defender's Office noticed high recidivism -- re-offending -- among people with drug or mental health problems.
Officials thought if they could capture those people early and get them into treatment, they might have a better chance of rehabilitating rather than re-offending.
Then everyone had to figure out how to do it.
During the past seven months, Buck, public defender's representatives and sheriff's officials have met with North Range and Island Grove leaders to hammer out the details. On Thursday, Buck and Rick Dill, commander of the jail, told a group of Weld judges and leaders about their preliminary plans.
The program is loosely modeled on a successful one from Boulder called Partnership for Active Community Engagement, or PACE. PACE officials met with Weld officials, who adapted it for a Weld-specific clientele.
Renfroe's committee met Thursday also and heard several options for future treatment at the state level. He said he's looking forward to seeing what Weld officials came up with.
To be eligible for the program, a person must be in the jail accused of a crime that was caused by an underlying mental health or substance abuse problem. Offenders are ineligible if they are in jail for any violent crimes or have been convicted of any violent crimes in the past.
Once the person is chosen, an intake coordinator will determine his or her eligibility and assess his or her needs. A screening committee will then review the case, and each party has veto power. That way, if everyone agrees a person needs mental health treatment but North Range can't accept the person, North Range isn't forced to take the patient.
Inmates who make it through the selection process will be sent to one of several options: intensive pre-trial supervision, an adult diversion program or a sentencing alternative program.
The first option would funnel the inmates to North Range or Island Grove for residential treatment of mental health or substance abuse.
If inmates follow all guidelines, they could face less strict sentences when their criminal cases are resolved.
At Thursday's meeting, Weld District Judge Marcelo Kopcow asked Buck how that would work.
"People won't go to prison who might have otherwise because of their proven success?" he said.
That's one potential incentive, Buck said.
There is a drawback, however, said Dana Nichols, a public defender who has been helping develop the program.
"They can also prove that they can't comply," she said. "There is a downfall, from the defendant's point of view."
But, she added, success in the program could help the inmate avoid prison and future crime by treating its underlying causes. And that means one less crime, one less court process and one less jail inmate.