The opening of Arkansas’s first Crisis Stabilization Unit in Sebastian County opens an entirely new and more humane approach for law-enforcement officers who encounter a person in a mental-health crisis, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“The CSU provides an alternative to jail when someone appears to be in a mental-health crisis,” Hutchinson said. “Before today, law enforcement officers generally had only one option when dealing with a person who was a threat to others or to himself. But an arrest isn’t always the best option. Now, officers have a place to take someone where people are trained to recognize and treat behavioral-health issues.”
Hutchinson believes Arkansas has set a national standard for how counties and states can work together to create a comprehensive program that will divert people who are experiencing a mental health crisis from jail to get the treatment they need while also decreasing recidivism, strengthening communities, and relieving pressure on crowded local jails.
To date, Arkansas is the only state to have established a network of state-funded crisis centers, integrated with law enforcement, with the goal of reducing the number of people with mental illness being incarcerated in county jails and providing these individuals the behavioral health services they need to stabilize their conditions.
“I commend Sebastian County officials for their the extraordinary leadership on this important issue, as well as the tremendous support from the Fort Smith community,” said Hutchinson. “County Judge David Hudson and Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck were instrumental throughout this whole process, and their efforts will no doubt make a positive difference for many Arkansas families.”
The CSU in Fort Smith is the first of four to open after Hutchinson allotted $6.4 million to help cover the initial costs of finding and equipping a facility and for training officers and CSU staff. The other three, which include Pulaski, Craighead and Washington counties, are scheduled to open later this year.
“Today’s ceremony was more than cutting the ribbon for a new building,” Hutchinson said. “In a sense, we were cutting the ribbon on a promise to our state. We are cutting the ribbon on a new approach to law enforcement and the treatment of those in mental-health crisis. This is the grand opening of a second chance and a new life for the many people who will benefit from the care they will receive.”
The crisis stabilization units were established as part of a more comprehensive statewide approach to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in county jails under The Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act of 2017. The law also includes:
- Equipping law enforcement officers with training in crisis intervention and de-escalation. Crisis Intervention Team training is a nationally recognized program that teaches law enforcement officers how to effectively manage encounters with people experiencing a mental health crisis, keeping both the officer and the individual safe, and redirect the individual away from the criminal justice system toward treatment and services; and
- Implementing screening tools at jail intake so that we can measure the prevalence of behavioral health needs in our jails, develop additional solutions, and improve connection to treatment.