FRANKFORT, Ky. — A measure that supporters say would help defendants with substance use and mental health disorders has passed the Kentucky Senate. 

What You Need To Know

  • Senate Bill 90 passed the Kentucky Senate Friday with bipartisan support

  • Sen. Whitney Westerfield is the bill sponsor

  • The bill would create a behavioral health conditional dismissal pilot program as an alternative to incarceration for people with mental health and substance use disorders

  • Under the bill, if someone successfully completes the program, their charges would be dismissed

Under a pilot program that would be in effect in counties determined by the Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, someone charged with certain non-violent crimes determined to have a mental health or substance use disorder would be able to have their case put on hold and go into treatment instead, under certain conditions. 

Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton), the sponsor of Senate Bill 90, told his colleagues Friday that many people in Kentucky’s prisons could benefit from that kind of intervention.

“Getting someone a job is the single most effective thing we can do to prevent them from committing a crime again, from creating another victim, from harming someone else, taking from someone else,” he said. “We spend a lot of time punishing these folks and we should, but if we can keep them from coming back, we’ve saved us all a bunch of trouble.”

The behavioral health conditional dismissal pilot program would include access to services like outpatient treatment, cognitive and behavioral therapies, educational and vocational services and housing assistance. 

The bill passed the Senate on Friday with bipartisan support. 

“This is a pilot project and I think we should try new and different things because we need to reduce that incarceration rate,” said Sen. Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington). “It’s not working for us and whether it succeeds or fails, I don’t know, but I think we should try something new.”

Under the bill, victims would have to be consulted and if someone successfully completes the program, their charges would be dismissed. 

The pilot program would begin in October and last four years. 

The bill moves next to the House for consideration.