By Haley Hughey
SEBASTIAN COUNTY — – In the most recent data available, there are nearly 745,000 people behind bars in the United States. Prison and jail overcrowding is a real problem, and it continues to grow including here in Arkansas. Sebastian County is now looking at all options to bring its detention center back to capacity. And it starts with giving people with mental health problems a different type of attention.
Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck is doing all he can to bring the number of inmates down. The detention center is supposed to have 320 inmates, right now they’re over capacity at 445.
It’s been a problem the jail has been dealing with since it opened in 1994. Recently, the Council of State Government came in to give suggestions on how they can reduce overcrowding.
Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck explained, “There was certain areas they looked at that of course we can probably improve on when it comes to the type of individuals, and the stays that they have in our jails.”
Helping people with mental health issues landed at the top of the list. The group suggested a stabilization unit to divert individuals who are incarcerated or about to be.
“First, we’re looking at having an aggressive program to train our law enforcement officers throughout the entire state of Arkansas, and specifically here in Sebastian county, on crisis intervention,” said Hollenbeck. “Then the next step is having a location where you can take them if it’s a non-violent misdemeanor offender.”
The separate center would allow trained employees to work with people with mental issues.
“We don’t want to put a debt on society where they’re going out and refunding because they don’t have those life skills that are necessary to get that job. But unfortunately with the high recidivism rate here they’re going back to prison, going back to the county jails. Which is ultimately costing the tax payer more and more money,” explained Hollenbeck.
Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill allowing three of these stabilization units to be placed throughout the state. Sheriff Hollenbeck is doing all he can to bring one to Sebastian County.