Mental Illness Causing ‘Crisis’ in AR Jails

Arkansas Matters

By Drew Petrimoulx

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck came all the way from Sebastian County to deliver a message to lawmakers about mental health issues in his community.

“We are sorely lacking the proper training,” he said.

Hollenbeck says the problems surrounding mental health are tearing apart families and swelling the roles of his county jail.

“You won’t find a person in the country who works in criminal justice, and increasingly mental health, who won’t tell you that people with mental health in their jail is a crisis,” said Mike Thompson, the Director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center

Thompson told a criminal justice task force that only five percent the country’s population has serious mental illness, but they make up 17 percent of those in jail.

“Right now, we don’t have enough facilities or programs,” said task force chairman State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock.

One of the solutions being considered is establishing 8 to 12 crisis intervention centers across the state to divert some non violent mentally ill offenders away from the criminal justice system.

Each facility is expected to cost $2 million per year to operate.  And that does not factor in long-term care or additional training needed for officers to recognize signs of mental illness.

Thursday, the task force voted to approve plans to hold a summit this summer.

Hutchinson says they will invite prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement and mental health professionals.

The idea is to gather information at they seek to draw up legislation for the regular session next year.