Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Program that gets care to mentally ill offenders cuts costs of justice system - The Denver Post

Program that gets care to mentally ill offenders cuts costs of justice system - The Denver Post

Getting arrested for robbery may have been the best thing that ever happened to Dale Edgin.

Facing a long jail term, Edgin got something else: a diagnosis, medication and treatment — for the first time — for the mental illness that by then had made a mess of his life.

In a rare stroke of luck, Edgin's arrest came just as a newly assembled team of mental health and criminal justice professionals were starting a project that they were calling Mental Health Court.

When they asked him to join, Edgin figured that he had little to lose. "I was homeless. I was desperate. I'd had mental-health issues all my life," he said.

Last month, the 18th Judicial District's Mental Health Court celebrated its first anniversary, trumpeting tens of thousands of dollars in savings to taxpayers, along with a couple dozen success stories like Edgin's.

The program, a collaboration between the staffs at Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network and the 18th Judicial District, diverts the mentally ill away from prison. The goal, those behind it say, is to shut the revolving door that moves the mentally ill in and out of jail or prison but rarely addresses the disease at the root of their crimes.

A chance to commit to treatment under the supervision of a judge is offered to people with serious mental illness who are charged with felonies that don't involve violence or sex crimes. In exchange, they stay out of prison.

In its first year, roughly 30 people participated, which means they plead guilty to a crime, live in secure housing, submit to drug tests, take part in therapy and allow virtually every element of their lives to be scrutinized. Not complying can mean jail.

In most cases, it also means getting off street drugs and staying on court-ordered medications.

Many people with serious mental illnesses have trouble working, have no insurance and receive only spotty health care. Many don't believe they are sick, so they don't think they need medications.

Many get relief from their symptoms through illegal drugs, just as Edgin once did.

"I was addicted to everything. Heroin, cocaine, meth," he said.

Barbara Becker, supervisor of the criminal justice team at Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health, said nearly everyone had substance abuse problems when they started. "All but two of them. And I question one of those two."

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