Advocacy Update from Wesley Moncrief

This advocacy update focuses on HB23-1003 and HB23-1013 which are bills relating to mental health assessments in schools and the usage of physical restrictive practices in prisons.

              Our first bill, HB23-1003, “School Mental Health Assessment” would empower the Department of Public Health and Environment to administer mental health assessments to students above the age of 12 (grades 6-12). Schools will have the opportunity to opt into the program, and written notice will be sent to parents at the beginning of the school year, wherein they will have the ability to opt their children out of the assessment. However, if the parents opt out, students will still have the ability to consent to participate so long as they are above the age of 12.

              Qualified providers appointed by the Department of Public Health and Environment will give the assessments, and as such, they will provide the threshold criteria for qualified providers. Should additional treatment be recommended following the assessment, the bill requires that providers notify the parents of the student. This would be a great step in providing mental health care for children who face very complex and confusing times, as well as help providers  recognize when to intervene. However, the legislation needs more clarity on lack of definitive language on what minimum requirements must be met.

              Secondly, HB23-1013, “Use of Restrictive Practices in Prisons” is intended to reduce the instances in which clinical, physical restraints are used in regards to “persons with behavioral health disorders in the criminal and juvenile justice systems”. The use of restraint would be reserved only for dire circumstances in which the individual poses immediate or substantial harm to themselves or another, all other options have been exhausted, or it is ordered by a mental health professional. The bill further limits the number of times someone can be restrained in a calendar year. Additionally, it reduces the usage of involuntary medication, unless the aforementioned risk of harm occurs, other avenues have been exhausted, and there has been a hearing regarding review and counsel with regards to involuntary medication.

              The bill requires the Department of Corrections to report to the Judiciary Committees of both the Colorado House and Senate the number of times that prisoners are restrained or involuntarily medicated. This bill balances necessity of these strong measures versus individual autonomy. Having worked in the care of youth with behavioral and mental disorders, there are unfortunately times when restraint is necessary, but more often than not, it is more beneficial to maintain the individual’s autonomy by separating them from the triggering situation than it is to create a system of powerlessness.

When working with individuals with behavioral disorders, force should only be used as a final resort to prevent dire circumstances. The protocols established by this bill, along with improved training, This would help weed out bad actors and set a positive minimum standard going forward in how incarcerated individuals should be treated with dignity and respect.

I hope that you will consider looking closer at these bills, reaching out to legislators to support them while simultaneously pushing back on where they could use clarity or repair. Thank you for your time!

CCC Social Justice Intern,
Wesley Moncrief

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