Governor taps $1.4 million to add fourth crisis center
Arkansas’ plan to open three regional crisis centers for the mentally ill got a boost Thursday from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who pledged to seek $1.4 million in rainy-day funds for a fourth center.
Hutchinson’s office announced the decision to county and state officials who had gathered in Little Rock to whittle down four applications from counties seeking to establish centers.
Instead of picking three, the panel’s decision was made moot.
The proposed 16-bed “crisis stabilization units” will be in Pulaski, Sebastian, Craighead and Washington counties.
The Washington County facility was part of a joint bid for Northwest Arkansas for a center that also will service Benton and Madison counties.
“The original plan was to select three counties, but we received four stellar applications, and so I decided to award funding to all four,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “Each of the counties’ submissions went above and beyond the parameters laid
out in the application process, with substantial support from local leadership and the community.”
To draw from the rainyday fund, Hutchinson will still need to seek approval from the Arkansas Legislative Council, the panel of lawmakers that makes key decisions between legislative sessions. A vote has yet to be scheduled.
Hutchinson included $5 million in funding for three crisis centers in his budget announced last November. During the general session earlier this year, lawmakers approved the facilities as part of an omnibus package aimed at reducing the need for prison beds.
The Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act, or Act 423 of 2017, authorized the use of crisis centers as an alternative to jail for people undergoing a mental-health episode.
The centers would be operated 24 hours, seven days a week by health care workers and have access to psychiatric consultation. The goal for the facilities is to stabilize a patient within 72 hours.
State funding under Hutchinson’s budget will provide the centers with about $1.6 million annually to operate. Counties will pay
the startup costs, with each of the applications proposing to use existing sites.
Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck, a member of the interagency task force established by Act 423, called the idea for crisis centers “smart justice.”
They are “a real conservative approach to making sure we’ve got jail beds for the real bad guys,” Hollenbeck told the panel Thursday.
The panel — officially the Interagency Task Force for the Implementation of Criminal Prevention Initiatives — convened for the first time Thursday at the Capitol.
Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, who was one of the legislative sponsors of Act 423, was elected chairman of the panel. Other members include circuit and district judges, a sheriff, county judge, prosecutors, lawmakers, and Parole Board and correction officials.
Tucker told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last month that geographic factors likely would play a role in consideration of the applications. There was a desire to have the centers spread out, and placed in large population centers, he said.
With their plans to consider the merits of the four applications scuttled, Tucker instead led a laid-back meeting in which the panel members discussed their expectations for the work ahead.