Mental Illness in Jails Expected to Be Addressed in 2017 Legislative Session


By Allison Munn

Sheriffs across the state are looking forward to the 2017 legislative session when mental illness in Arkansas jails is expected to be addressed.

Just last week at an Arkansas Association of Counties meeting, the Council of State Governments presented their ideas for “Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas.”

“We’ve been hammering on the state level for five, six years or longer about the problem we deal with daily for mental health issues inside our jails,” Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said.

A portion of that presentation focused on alternatives to incarceration for those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

“One of the biggest issues, and we started this before the study came out, is crisis intervention for law enforcement,” Sheriff Boyd said. “We were successful in it, and in 2017, that’s going to start for every law enforcement officer. They’re going to get crisis intervention training where they can recognize a problem.”

Sheriff Boyd said it’s a step in the right direction to alleviate the amount of people with mental illness placed in jail as a temporary solution.

“If it’s someone who’s having a mental health crisis, other than a criminal matter, where we have some tools to recognize it and hopefully some other options,” Sheriff Boyd said.

Those options include Crisis Stabilization or Crisis Intervention Units.

“Which would be sort of a regional unit where law enforcement would be able to take that person there instead of jail,” he explained. “That would give a tremendous tool to law enforcement, to recognize that that person is having a mental health crisis or that there is a mental health need, and being able to take that person to a crisis unit instead of incarceration or jail. That way they receive the treatment that they need.”

Sheriff Boyd said county jails are simply not meant to provide mental health services. He said the ideal situation would be to have a 16-bed unit that could serve as an up to 72-hour holding facility.

“What they would receive there is to get back on medication or be diagnosed with an illness and start medication to help them with that problem,” Sheriff Boyd said.

He said the person would receive outpatient services after that.

Sheriff Boyd said the presentation by the Council of State Government would help them ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session.

“It adds credibility to what we’ve been saying,” he said. “This outside group, they do studies for states all the time in the United States, and it gives the sheriffs credibility on the mental health side of what we need and what services we need.”

More so, Sheriff Boyd said it’s a proven plan.

“Other states are already doing it, and they’ve seen results,” he said. “We’ve visited those facilities, and we’ve seen the results, and we feel it’s time that Arkansas starts putting this as a priority.”

He said he feels so strongly about the alternatives that Craighead County has agreed to partner with the state in covering the cost.

“The Sheriff’s Association, the Association of Counties, this is a priority for all of us,” Sheriff Boyd said. “We’ve been working on it for several years, and we think, maybe, we’re taking that first crucial step where we need to go.”

The 91st General Assembly convenes Monday, Jan. 9.