New Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health will improve approach to court cases involving mental health, substance use and intellectual disabilities

Photo: Supporters of the new Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health posed for a group photo at the Capitol after today’s news conference. The commission will work to improve how the courts address justice-involved people with needs related to mental health, substance use and intellectual disabilities.

FRANKFORT, Ky., Aug. 11, 2022 – The Supreme Court launched the Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health today at a news conference in the Supreme Court Courtroom at the state Capitol.

With so many justice-involved individuals dealing with mental health issues, substance use and intellectual disabilities, the new commission will work to improve the practice, quality and timeliness of the judicial response to cases involving these needs.  

You can watch the recorded news conference here. You can find the Supreme Court order establishing the commission here.

“The prevalence of mental illness, substance use disorder and intellectual disabilities in our society is undeniable,” Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said. “For courts and our justice system, this prevalence has a disproportionate impact as the justice system has become the default system for addressing the needs of those with behavioral and mental health issues, and our state prisons and county jails are, without question, the largest providers of mental health services in this state.” 

He said the Supreme Court is confident that many entities, inside and outside state government, share a commitment to improving services to Kentuckians. “We are especially pleased to have the enthusiastic support of the executive and legislative leaders as well as other constituencies from across the commonwealth.”

Supreme Court Justice Debra Hembree Lambert will chair the commission. Justice Lambert is a certified suicide prevention trainer and former Drug Court judge who has seen firsthand how mental health issues affect those involved with the justice system.

“This is an unprecedented effort for Kentucky and a very hopeful effort,” Justice Lambert said.

Justice Lambert thanked her fellow justices, who she said have brought a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences to the Supreme Court, but have not lost touch with what goes on in the courtroom. “We see these cases and are touched by the needs of our fellow citizens and our community members, and we want to see a system that properly reacts and administers justice in a way that is efficient and timely.”

Gov. Andy Beshear spoke at the news conference to show his support for the work of the commission. “We have come so far in recognizing that health care is a basic human right, but we still have a long way to go to make sure that mental health is treated as physical health, that the services are there and the stigma is gone,” he said.

“It’s OK to not be OK,” Gov. Beshear said.

He said he thinks this program, by bringing so many resources together, will go a long way to not only move people through the justice system, but also to help them get better.

“Today is a really good day and this is a really big deal,” the governor said. “The Kentucky Judicial Commission on Mental Health, I think, is going to be a legacy of this court.”

Commission Membership
The commission membership will be composed of representatives from the judicial and legal communities; the juvenile, criminal and child protection systems; the legislature; the business community; organizations with a substantial interest in mental health matters; and other state and local leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to mental health issues affecting Kentuckians.

The commission will meet for the first time Sept. 22 and the list of members will be announced once it is final.

Supreme Court of Kentucky
The Supreme Court is the state court of last resort and the final interpreter of Kentucky law. Seven justices sit on the Supreme Court and all seven justices rule on appeals that come before the court. The justices are elected from seven appellate districts and serve eight-year terms. A chief justice, chosen for a four-year term by fellow justices, is the administrative head of the state’s court system and is responsible for its operation. The Supreme Court may order a ruling or opinion to be published, which means that the ruling becomes the case law governing all similar cases in the future in Kentucky.