FRANKFORT, Ky. (FOX 56) – Kentucky lawmakers are taking a bigger look at mental health as it applies to crime. The General Assembly passed a bill this session to look at possibilities for alternative sentences for those suffering from some disorders.
Senate Bill 90 will create a series of pilot programs offering access to mental health care for low-level offenders, even allowing conditional release, in the hopes the program can expand statewide.
“We want to be able to show legislators 4 years from now – from rural parts of the state and urban both – look this is what we did in your kind of area, it works and we’d like to carry this statewide,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton) said.
The law calls for at least 10 behavioral health conditional release pilot programs. Their locations will be chosen by the State Supreme Court. Westerfield said this helps Kentucky catch up to other states in addressing mental health needs and said there are similar programs in other states. He hopes the pilot programs represent a variety of Kentucky’s communities that are both ready and willing to meet the need.
“If we put it in a county where the prosecutor is not going to use it it’s a waste, and if we put it in a county where everyone wants to use it but there’s not a good provider system there it’s a waste,” Westerfield said.
Those who’d qualify are a small pool of people. They cannot have a charge higher than a class D felony, and they must be considered a low risk to the public and a low risk for flight. No DUI or violent offenses will be considered.
“There’s an argument that there’s a lot of the folks in these groups need this sort of intervention too, but we understood that we were trying to develop a system here or program that we could show would work and sometimes you got to take smaller steps to get there,” Westerfield said.
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Westerfield said legal and law enforcement stakeholders agree the program could help repeat offenders avoid going back in the system.
“Everyone agrees these folks could benefit from this care, and I think if they get involved in this care they may stop being justice-involved individuals and that makes my community safer and the rest of Kentucky safer. We’d be silly not to give that a try,” he said.
There’s no set timeline for when the pilot counties will be announced. It will take a lot of time to set up the program between the court system and providers. Westerfield said they will likely be announced soon to meet the bill’s January 1 start date.