Panel to study mental-health issues in criminal-justice system

Chief Justice Minton, Justice Lambert, Gov. Beshear

The Supreme Court of Kentucky has created a commission to investigate mental-health issues in the state’s criminal-justice system. Its membership has not been announced, but it will be chaired by Justice Debra Hembree Lambert.

“I’m excited to focus on mental health and substance-use cases, but this will also be the first time there will be an all-hands-on-board effort to assess and improve the way the court handles intellectual disabilities,” Lambert said in a news release. “No group this broad and with this many resources has ever come together to tackle all three of these important issues.”
The Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health “will potentially have a great deal of latitude,” report John Cheves and Aaron Mudd of the Lexington Herald-Leader. “According to Lambert, the body will examine where the court system touches cases involving mental health, substance use and intellectual disabilities, she said in the news release. The commission will also be empowered to make recommended changes where appropriate,” including training for judges, other court personnel, law-enforcement officers, mental-health providers and community advocates, she said.
Chief Justice John Minton, who named Lambert chair, said Kentucky is the latest state to tackle “the growing mental-health crisis in the justice system.”
But Cheves and Mudd write, “This is not the first time the commonwealth has tried to address severe mental illness in the people caught up in the state’s justice system. So far, its efforts haven’t been all that successful.” They note that “Tim’s Law,” which lets district judges order seriously mentally-ill people into outpatient treatment, apparently has been used only once, in Jefferson County.
The commission is scheduled to have its first meeting Sept. 22. It apparently will have some members from the executive branch of state government, since the Supreme Court announcement was accompanied by a photo of Minton, Lambert and Gov. Andy Beshear.
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