Nationwide, more than 60% of people who are in jail are there because they’re awaiting trial. And money is the primary factor that determines “pretrial” detention. In other words, people who can afford to pay bond are released and those who can’t are held — often without direct relationship to the person’s charge or potential risk they pose to the community.
In 2014, Denver was selected as one of three communities nationwide to be an inaugural Smart Pretrial site. Taking part in this initiative means that Denver is committed to using a sophisticated assessment of risk, instead of a person’s ability to pay, as the primary factor in deciding who remains in jail awaiting trial. On average, this means that 100 fewer people are in Denver’s jail, avoiding taxpayer expenses of more than $1 million annually. In addition, safe pretrial supervision instead of incarceration helps people in our community avoid potentially devastating consequences such as missing school, getting fired from jobs, and significant stress and trauma for both those who’ve been arrested and their families.
People who are homeless — especially people who also experience mental health conditions — are more likely to be stopped by police officers, often for minor violations like loitering or trespassing. After being ticketed, their situation is often escalated if they don’t appear in court to deal with the ticket, including possibly serving jail time. This can mean our jails become crowded and, more importantly, people with mental health challenges aren’t getting as much support. Outreach Court is aimed at reducing police and criminal justice interactions by giving people the opportunity to deal with tickets at the homeless shelter, instead of in the main court facilities.
Your family might have a plan for what to do in an emergency like a fire. And if you’re managing a mental health condition, it helps to have a plan for what to do during lots of stages of life — from crisis to recovery to wellness. They’re called Wellness Recovery Action Plans® or WRAPs®, and more people are learning how to create and use them, thanks to the partnership between Colorado Mental Wellness Network and OBHS. We’re spreading the word and providing increased training, so more people develop proactive plans for what they can do for themselves and how best to build and maintain support from others in their lives.
Ten agencies that provide school-based and community-based programs that engage youth around marijuana usage are supported with funding by OBHS. One such program, led by the Office of the Independent Monitor, facilitates conversations between police officers and youth. As part of an intensive, five-hour training and dialogue, kids and police talk about marijuana legalization — including laws that make marijuana use illegal for anyone under age 21 — and the potential impacts of marijuana usage, so kids can make informed decisions. The dialogue is also aimed at breaking down walls between police officers and young people, helping kids understand why officers may approach them about marijuana usage while sharing their own perspectives.
Too often, people who are struggling with homelessness as well as mental health or substance abuse issues are not engaged in treatment and support. This can mean they’re also out of compliance with probation or parole agreements. The PHASE program was designed to encourage more people to take part in treatment that will help them thrive by reducing some of the barriers to getting mental-health support. Through PHASE, probation officers meet the people they serve at Phoenix Multisport. The gym is designed to build a supportive community and a wide variety of healthy interactions for people who are in substance-abuse recovery. Probation officers work out alongside their clients, and after a boxing or yoga session, people in recovery get additional support from their peers and clinicians in group treatment sessions.
A PHASE program participant shared how this new approach was different: “I relearned how to manage myself and my emotions and navigate life clean, using physical activity and exercise as an anchor point in my life and my sobriety. The groups I participated in helped me to communicate through my anxiety, and the structure of my probation agreement helped me to stay on my medications, off heroin, and on track in life.”
Our work to foster greater mental wellness is focused on our PRISM model: a Proactive, Responsive, Integrated, and Strategic approach to Mental Wellbeing.
Like physical health, mental wellbeing is something we can work on proactively and improve. Our Proactive strategy focuses on helping our community understand what mental wellbeing means, reducing stigma surrounding mental-health support, and providing greater access to training and education. We also address emerging trends in mental health as they affect our community.
We envision a responsive system for meeting mental-health needs that provides effective treatment and support in ways that are respectful and comfortable for anyone to access. Our Responsive strategy is focused on finding innovative ways to fix broken links in our mental-health system and developing new approaches to meeting our community’s unique needs.
Ensuring mental wellbeing for our entire community is something we can’t do in isolation. Our Integrated strategy is focused on engaging experts in our faith-based, cultural, and non-profit organizations along with community-based agencies. We will ensure they are aware of the supports available to the people they serve, and we will share and analyze data together to make better-informed decisions.
So many incredible organizations work tirelessly to improve our community’s mental wellbeing. OBHS will facilitate purposeful connections among partners who share a common vision or opportunity for collaboration. Our Strategic focus area includes sharing best practices, coordinating and analyzing data, organizing disaster response, and advocating for supportive public policy at the local, regional, and national levels.
The Office of Behavioral Health Strategies was created by the City of Denver to ensure that our approach to mental wellbeing is connected, innovative and effective. Led by Regina Huerter, who pioneered exceptional improvements in Denver’s criminal justice system, the OBHS team connects the key players in our city’s efforts toward greater mental well-being, helps partners find innovative ways to serve their stakeholders and our city, and connects people with the supports they need to thrive.
If you are, or someone you know is, in need of confidential and immediate mental health, substance use or emotional help, please visit Colorado Crisis Services online, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255), or text "TALK" to 38255 to be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master’s or doctoral degree. (Español - Text TALK to 38255.) Interpretation services are available for non-English speakers. Help and hope are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
If you are, or someone you know is, experiencing a life-threatening emergency, please call 911.