Daviess a trial site for a treatment program

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15 Nov. Daviess County has been selected as one of 11 counties to participate in a pilot program that will redirect some people accused of crimes to behavioral therapy.

If successful, the defendant’s charges will be dismissed, officials from the courts’ administrative office and the Department of Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities told county officials Monday morning.

The behavioral health parole program was created through Senate Bill 90, which was passed by lawmakers earlier this year. The bill allowed eligible defendants to have their criminal charges dismissed if they completed substance abuse or mental health treatment.

The state and Daviess County already have court-sponsored programs that provide defendants with substance abuse or mental health services, such as Rocket Docket, Drug Court, and Mental Health Court.

But those programs are for people who have already pleaded guilty, been found guilty, or have consented to the information presented against them in the Rocket Docket case. The new program is different in that people would be referred to the program without having pleaded guilty.

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“The defendant is not required to plead guilty,” and in fact cannot plead guilty as part of the program, said Angela Darcy, executive officer of the AOC’s Department of Pretrial Services.

“If they don’t finish the program, the charges will start immediately,” Darcy said in court.

To determine who qualifies for the program, suspects should be approached very early in the process, ideally while still in custody after the initial arrest, Darcy said.

To be eligible, a defendant must be at least 18 years old, must not be facing a charge that would fall under the state’s statue of a violent offender or a sex offense, must not have a previous Class A criminal record, B or C offences, must be assessed as having a low risk of recidivism or missing court hearings and must be identified as having a recognized conduct disorder.

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The restrictions are narrow in scope.

The hope is that officials will use what they learn during the four-year pilot program to expand it to more defendants, said Wendy Morris, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities.

Kentucky historically ranks 45th in mental health funding, Morris said.

The state has allocated $10.5 million for each year of the pilot program for the 11 counties, though many of the participants are expected to be covered by Medicaid, Darcy said.

If a defendant does not meet the requirements, he can still be placed on the program through an agreement between prosecutors and counsel. A prosecutor must consult with the victim, if a victim was involved in the charge, and a prosecutor can object to placing a person on the program.

The suitability assessment will be conducted by Pretrial Services and a screening to determine if the defendant has a substance abuse or mental disorder will be conducted by a physician.

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Daviess Circuit Judge Lisa Payne Jones, a member of the state executive board who will evaluate and amend the program, said there is a need for the program and that “our prisons have become mental hospitals.”

Statewide, “maybe 20% of inmates with serious mental health problems” are in prisons, with even more having less severe mental health problems, Jones said. At the Daviess County Detention Center, between 300 and 400 inmates are believed to have mental health problems, Jones said.

Inmates with mental health problems can languish in prison “for lack of a better option,” she said.

The other counties in the pilot program include Kenton, Greenup, Letcher, Clark, McCracken, Pulaski, Madison, Oldham, Hopkins and Christian counties.

“By the end of year four,[lawmakers]want it to be a successful program” that can be funded statewide, Darcy said.