Bill Introduced to Address Mental Health in Criminal System
New bill piggybacks on handful of previous measures related to treatment and competency to proceed

by Julia Cardi

A state bill is following up on a settlement and a 2019 bill related to how the state handles proceedings and mental health treatment for people judged incompetent to stand trial. Last Wednesday, the bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“This bill is part of a continuing effort to address the issue of people with mental illness who are caught up in the criminal justice system, when they are better treated with behavioral treatment either in the community or in institutions or in the civil setting,” bill sponsor Sen. Pete Lee told the committee.

Senate Bill 181 expands requirements for reports prepared on the competency of people charged with crimes to proceed to trial. Among other mandates, it requires mental health evaluators to explain why they believe the defendant may return to competency in the near future if the conclusion is different from a previous court finding. The bill also requires municipal courts to dismiss a case when a defendant is deemed incompetent or when civil commitment to treatment is ordered.

In 2019, the legislature passed two bills related to mental health treatment in the court system. Senate Bill 222 provided access to spaces at inpatient treatment facilities for people at risk of incarceration, and Senate Bill 223 set time limits in which a person deemed incompetent to proceed must receive treatment services. The bills came out of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit over the state’s backlog of people who remain in jails because they haven’t yet received treatment to restore them to competency.

A Supreme Court ruling, Jackson v. Indiana, established the legal standard that a person charged with crimes who is committed for treatment because they have been deemed incompetent to proceed to trial can’t be held longer than a reasonable period of time needed to figure out if they may regain competency.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the March 16, 2020 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.