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Jail Diversion Pilot Coming to Owensboro Courts

An Owensboro District Court has been selected for a statewide pilot program based on Kentucky Senate Bill 90, to dismiss criminal charges once the accused have completed a 12-month mental health treatment program.

Daviess County Kentucky has been selected for a statewide pilot program, which would divert low-level criminal offenders from jail into mental health support systems.

Daviess County is one of 11 which are taking part under a new statewide law, Senate Bill 90, called the Behavioral Health Conditional Dismissal Program.

It starts now , and sunsets three years after states get it up and running — which is the current challenge — said 6th Judicial Circuit Division 2 Judge Lisa Payne Jones.

“This is a very preliminary basics of an outline,” she said. “Because we are pilot counties, the program doesn't exist yet. It's going to be up to the pilot counties to create that program.”

Essentially, pilot counties are still figuring out how the program will work.

Kenton and Letcher counties are also in the pilot. Both have programs that most closely resemble the system suggested in SB90, so other states will kind of work from their outline to start.

But once the program is running, certain low-level offenders will enter a 12-month treatment program instead of going to jail.

“You will be identified at the detention center, you will be offered a treatment plan, basically,” Payne Jones said. “And then, if you comply with your treatment plan over the course of approximately 12 months, then at the end of that time period, your case would be dismissed.”

Rachel Pate is director of Mental Health for the sixth Judicial Circuit for the Criminal and Civil Division. She said approximately 180 to 300 individuals could be eligible for the program annually.

While much is being designed and established about the program right now, one thing is decided — the program is for individuals accused of low-level crimes who are at low risk of re-offending. This means no violent criminal past and no habitual offenders.

“Mostly drug offenses, but shoplifting where the value of the property is less than $10,000,” Pate said. “… receiving stolen property or the value of the property is less than $10,000 … mostly Class D felonies.”

Payne Jones says this program could help break the criminal cycle, once initiated.

“… they are working towards a system where these individuals can be identified early before they commit really serious charges,” she said. “And that they can be helped into treatments that can be helped and some medication that can be helped into some stability, and break that cycle.”

Pilot counties include Daviess, Kenton, Lechter, Greenup, Clark, McCracken, Pulaski, Madison, Oldham, Hopkins and Christian.

Note: audio script reports 10 counties — story online has been updated to include recent additional counties.