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Colorado's diversion programs scoring high marks, Part 2

One Denver police lieutenant says that select individuals who accompany him when he responds to 911 calls "are worth their weight in gold."

He may be right, even in the most literal sense.

The people riding shotgun with him and other police officers when they encounter individuals in situations involving mental health issues and often drugs are professionally trained clinicians.

We noted in our January 8 blog post the rise of diversionary programs across Colorado to deal with many criminal law issues. The role that clinicians play when they respond to calls is often critically important to defuse tensions and secure proper outcomes.

A "proper" ending to many such encounters is now widely viewed across Colorado as being something other than an arrest. Reportedly, close to four of every 10 inmates locked away in state prisons have a dire need for some type of mental health assistance.

There is growing bipartisan agreement that a penitentiary is not the optimal venue for securing that. Moreover, prisons are violent places with little to recommend them as catalysts for treatment or rehabilitation.

And, as we noted in the above-linked blog post, prison upkeep is phenomenally expensive.

Clinical intervention at the outset of a potential problem often leads to recommendations that yield no-arrest alternatives. Individuals needing help are often referred to programs that bring proven results. Many people, notes a recent Denver Post article, can "be steered toward job training, new housing and treatment for schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders."

Many Colorado officials and legislators clearly believe in the results of interventionary efforts that avoid embroilment in an already overcrowded court system and the potential for a long-tenured stay in prison. State lawmakers recently approved by an overwhelming majority a grant of $16 million to support the clinician program in areas spanning the state.

The rationale behind such a reform effort is well understood and promoted by seasoned defense lawyers. Proven attorneys know from close personal experience that time spent in prison is often counterproductive and deeply damaging to individuals who are far better served by non-penal approaches and immersion in programs that are truly rehabilitative.

An experienced and aggressive legal advocate will always push hard for a result that promotes a client's best interests. Increasingly, more people are realizing that such an objective is achieved most often through outcomes that do not involve incarceration.

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