Denver, CO

Denver expands jail diversion program for mentally ill

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) A Denver Police program that avoids jailing people with mental illness will expand to provide service around-the-clock.

The Denver Police Department's co-responder program recently received a grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation. The department will use the money to staff the co-responder program with a mental health clinician 24/7.

The City Council will award a $1.8 million contract to Mental Health Center Denver Tuesday. Mental health professionals go with police on calls involving known or suspected people with mental illness.

"The clinicians are trained to assist people in crisis and provide the most effective services for resolution," MHCD explains on its website. "Crisis can take many forms and is defined uniquely by the individual. Clinicians and officers collaborate to provide treatment in a format that best decreases current stressors and replaces them with long term community-based supports."

Two-thirds referred for mental health treatment

MHCD boasts that 98 percent of encounters made with police on co-responder calls end without anyone going to jail. Ninety-seven percent of subjects do not get a ticket, and 66 percent of individuals get referred to mental health treatment. Only 13 percent receive recommendations for substance abuse treatment, according to the MHCD website.

Denver also recently expanded its STAR program. STAR stands for Support Team Assisted Response. On STAR calls, police do not respond—only a paramedic and a mental health professional aid the individual.

Like the co-responder program, the STAR program works to keep people with mental illness in duress out of jail. Instead, the traumatic incidents often lead to sustained mental health treatment.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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