Senate bill would establish pilot behavioral health program for certain offenders

The measure calls on the Supreme Court to choose at least ten counties to participate in the pilot program

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Senate Judiciary Committee took steps Thursday to establish a pilot behavioral health program that would help some low-level offenders access services, find jobs and avoid incarceration.

Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield, of Crofton, said elements of Senate Bill 90 had been in the works for a few years and such measures had been considered by many people associated with mental health and justice issues.

“It’s really focused on two different things – getting people to connect with behavioral health care, whether it’s treating substance use disorders or behavioral health, … getting them to work, train and place if possible,” he said. “The biggest thing you can do to stop people going back to prison is to make sure they have a job.”

The bill cleared the committee on a 9-0 vote. He is asking the Supreme Court to choose at least ten counties to participate in the pilot program, which would provide the possibility of deferred prosecution for offenders.

To qualify, offenders can only be charged with a Class D felony. Those who have committed violent offenses or sexual offenses, among others, would not be eligible.

SB 90 is a collaboration of people who work across many disciplines, Westerfield told the committee. Instead of looking at certain issues facing offenders as a single problem, it could be done more comprehensively, he said.

“From the far left to the far right, from prosecution to defense to the courts, everyone agrees that this population of people could benefit from behavioral health interventions,” Westerfield said. “Not just substance use disorders, but also psychological or psychiatric disorders and, in many cases, multiples of those two things combined in the same person.”

Westerfield said the bill doesn’t go as far as it could, especially when it comes to transportation, but housing is included in the bill. Additionally, the program would provide vocational assessments with the goal of placing the offender in training or even employment.

Democratic Sen. Gerald A. Neal of Louisville said he supported the idea of ​​the program, calling it fair and rational.

“These same people have to go back at some point, in most cases to the community,” he said. “And the thing is, if you don’t have that intervention, then you’re potentially recycling the same thing. This is where you get the recidivism and all that.

Norman D. Briggs