Bill focused on ensuring behavioral and mental health assessments before incarceration passes Senate committee

In an effort to ensure Kentucky is not incarcerating those who are struggling, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill Thursday to ensure behavioral and mental health assessments for those with low-level offenses that could ensure they get the help they need rather than being incarcerated.

Senate Bill 90, sponsored by Sen. Whitney Westerfield, would set up a pilot program in at least 10 Kentucky counties to require a mental and/or behavioral health assessment early on in the process when an individual is charged with a Class D felony.

With the assessment, performed by a provider from a rotating list, would decide if treatment was a more suitable solution than incarceration to help someone with substance use disorder. Within 30 days of the course of treatment, the individual would receive a vocational assessment. Within 10 days of that assessment, the treatment provider would work with the Kentucky Workforce Cabinet to get placed in job training or a job.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers noted clinical data proves that after a year of treatment, relapse and recidivism drops greatly. “And then when you add skills training and a job, it declines even further,” he said.

The new approach to criminal justice, Stivers said, has an uncommon amount of broad support from groups like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and union organizations.

Westerfield said most individuals recognize that substance use and behavioral health issues play a large role in the criminal justice system and that population could truly benefit from interventions.

Senate Bill 90 passed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Stay tuned to The Bottom Line for an interview with Sen. Westerfield and more updates on the bill.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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