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Regional town hall meetings about mental health, justice to launch Wednesday in Owensboro

Public Domain

Owensboro is kicking off a series of town hall meetings across Kentucky to gather public input on mental health in the judicial system.

Kentucky Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Debra Lambert says many defendants are affected by mental illness, substance abuse, and intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“We have to try to figure out a way to effectively handle those situations in a fair and just way, and a cost effective way too for the citizens and the taxpayers," Lambert said.

Kentucky is one of only two states with a Judicial Commission on Mental Health. The group hosted the state’s first mental health summit in the spring that brought nearly 1,000 people from across the country who work in the legal field. Lambert said the town halls are aimed at hearing from people or their family members with lived experience.

“At that training, we realized we were training insiders and not really consumers and users, so we wanted to go to the citizens and hear their voices," Lambert said.

Kentucky has some of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. The goal of addressing mental health is to reduce recidivism and over-incarceration of low-level offenders who would be better served by treatment options.

According to 2021 data from the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, Kentucky has a prison rate of 411 per 100,000 people, the ninth-highest in the U.S. and higher than the national average, which is 350. A 2016 DOJ survey said about 43% of state inmates and 23% of federal inmates had a history of a mental health problem.

The first town hall will take place on Wednesday at the Owensboro Convention Center from 6:00-8:00 p.m. More meetings will follow around the state through the end of November in Covington, Ashland, London, Lexington, Paducah, Louisville, Pikeville, and Bowling Green.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.