Colorado to use inmate mental health backlog fines to create new treatment programs

Colorado is creating new mental health initiatives using money it's paying in fines for the long wait list for jail mental health services, NBC affiliate 9News reported March 27. 

The state is currently paying $12 million in fines per year after it was sued over the length of the time individuals in jail must wait for mental health treatment and evaluations to determine if they can stand trial. 

"Today, we have about 450 people waiting on that waitlist," Leora Joseph, director of Colorado's Office for Civil and Forensic Mental Health, told the news outlet. "They're waiting for treatment in the hospital." 

She adds that some individuals are waiting up to 100 days in jail before receiving mental health services, despite state hospitals having open beds. 

Nurse staffing shortages in psychiatric hospitals are the main reason for the long waiting list, Ms. Joseph told 9News.

The $12 million in fines each year is going into a fund that will be used for new mental health programs within the state to cut down the waitlist. 

The first program will help individuals waiting in jail who have traumatic brain injuries, which will be led by Jennifer McMahon, PhD, director of the outpatient competency restoration program  at the University of Denver's Forensic Institute for Research, Service and Training. Dr. McMahon told the news outlet that at least 40 percent of those incarcerated could have brain injuries. 

Other programs include initiatives that will help with homelessness, veterans and dementia patients.

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