Gover­nor taps $1.4 mil­lion to add fourth cri­sis cen­ter

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

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.

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