Colorado bans using jails for mental health holds

One of only six states that still allows practice

DENVER -- Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a new bill into law Thursday that bans the use of jails for mental health holds on individuals who haven't committed a crime, and allocates funds to expand crisis centers across the state.

Colorado is one of only six states across the country who still allows the practice, one Cuica Montoya experienced firsthand.

"You get one blanket, your jump suit," explained Montoya. "I hadn't even committed a crime; it was very tough."

Montoya went from general population in the Denver County Jail to the steps of the state Capitol.

"I said to my mom: When I'm well, I'm going to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone," she said. "And here I was last week testifying for this bill."

Montoya is a success story, but for a lot of people who get an orange jumpsuit instead of the mental health treatment they need, the impacts can be devastating.

"It wasn't beneficial actually, and it was just an unbelievable experience," she said.

Before the bill was signed, someone in crisis could be jailed even if they haven't committed a crime.

"This is an atrocious practice," said Moe Keller, the vice president of public policy for Mental Health Colorado. "We would never do this to individuals who had a stroke, a person who had a seizure. We would get the helicopter there.

The new law ends the practice and funds $7 million dollars for new crisis centers.

"Seven-million dollars is not enough, but it is a good start," said Keller.

The first center will open in Delta County, a rural community south of Grand Junction. There, Keller said, deputies have had to drive up to five hours to find a facility that can take care of a mentally ill patient.

"It will mean actually being able to access services for which the current community was unable to provide," she explained.

If Montoya had received the treatment her family had been promised, she said it could have all the difference.

"I could have possibly grabbed a hold of myself and not experienced what I experienced, " said Montoya.

Keller said the money will be allocated to communities starting in August and the ban on using jails to hold the mentally ill will take effect next year. 

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