The Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville.
Arkansas opened four 16-bed crisis stabilization units as a pilot program through June 2021. The crisis unit in Sebastian County in Fort Smith opened in March 2018. The Pulaski County unit in Little Rock opened in August 2018. The Northwest Arkansas unit in Fayetteville opened in June 2019, and the Craighead County unit in Jonesboro opened in October 2019.
The state paid the operating costs of the units through June 2021 while evaluating the program’s effectiveness.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette
FAYETTEVILLE — The Northwest Arkansas Crisis Stabilization Unit is still months away from reopening, members of Washington County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee were told Thursday.
“We should be opening in the next few months,” Kristen McAllister told the committee.
McAllister was director of the facility for Ozark Guidance when it opened and has been retained by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to fill the same post when it reopens. Washington County and UAMS agreed to a contract for UAMS to operate the facility in January.
The 16-bed facility is operated as an alternative to jail. Participation is voluntary for those treated, who are usually accused of creating a disturbance, trespassing or other disruptive behaviors, law enforcement officials said.
The unit closed after Ozark Guidance President Laura Tyler said in July the company, a nonprofit group, couldn’t absorb a cut of $43,000 a month and still operate the unit.
The unit closed June 30 after funding cuts, from $133,000 per month to $90,000, were announced by the state in May.
McAllister told the committee UAMS is still hiring staff to operate the facility.
Lisa Evans, associate professor in UAMS’ Department of Psychiatry and medical director of the Pulaski County Regional Crisis Stabilization Unit, said in February the Northwest Arkansas unit requires 20-25 staff, with the positions being a combination of registered nurses, patient services associates, nurse practitioners, social workers, case managers and psychiatrists.
The committee also discussed a range of projects aiming to reduce the problem of crowding at the Washington County Detention Center. The panelists discussed a proposed mental health court, similar to existing drug court programs, that would be available to people who are arrested for crimes but have identifiable mental health issues that can be addressed in a supervised setting. The group is planning a Zoom meeting with officials in Craighead County to discuss the mental health court operating in Jonesboro.
The proposed Washington County mental health court would begin as a program to accept misdemeanor defendants only, according to Circuit Judge Cristi Beaumont. Beaumont oversees Washington County’s drug court program. Beaumont said the mental health court would need at least one probation officer for every 40 people enrolled in the program. She said diversion court programs such as drug court typically are 12- to 15-month programs.
The committee was formed to explore alternatives to a proposed jail expansion project. Sheriff Tim Helder presented a plan for a $38 million, 600-bed jail expansion to the Quorum Court in 2018. The now-shelved expansion would have been paid for by a temporary sales tax.
The committee includes representatives from law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, mental health professionals and some community representatives.
Washington County justices of the peace said when the committee was formed they wanted to explore alternatives to a jail expansion, and a report authorized by the Quorum Court recommended forming a committee to consider options short of expanding the jail.
A $20 million plan to add beds and expand space for booking, medical services, courts, administrative offices and storage in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic is currently being considered by the Quorum Court.