LITTLE ROCK – This week, I traveled to Jonesboro to help cut the ribbon at the state’s fourth Crisis Stabilization Unit, and today I’d like to talk about the difference these centers are making in Arkansas.
The philosophy behind the crisis stabilization units, or CSUs, is that sometimes police officers need an alternative to jail. Sometimes officers encounter a person who is behaving in a way that appears to threaten others. But the behavior is rooted in a mental-health crisis. A night in jail usually isn’t the best solution. So an officer can choose to take the person to a stabilization unit, where staff can stabilize and then assess what’s best for the person.
In 2017, the General Assembly passed Act 423, which authorized the creation of a pilot program to establish these stabilization units. We sought applications from every county in the state, and four counties applied, and they can provide coverage throughout four regions of the state.
Although Act 423 called for only three CSUs, all four applications were excellent. So I added funding for a fourth unit, and we launched the program.
Ruth Allison Dover is with Mid-South Health Systems, the company that will operate the Craighead County Crisis Stabilization Unit. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday, she referred to a CSU as a psychiatric emergency room. That’s a good description.
This story illustrates the value of the stabilization units. In June, a woman who had just been released from a county jail wandered onto the median of an interstate highway. An Arkansas State Police officer who responded didn’t take her back to jail but instead, took her to one of our CSUs.
The staff at the CSU stabilized her and arranged for her to go to an inpatient facility to receive additional services. A trip to jail would not have helped this woman.
Our system worked beautifully. The officer had been trained to recognize a mental-health crisis. The officer took the woman to a place where she could be treated. The CSU staff knew what to do.
Now that all of our CSUs are open, we can track success, identify weaknesses, and plan for the future. We will learn what works, what the existing CSUs need to do to improve their service, and how to plan for new CSUs around the state in the future.
Our law-enforcement officers are key to the success of these programs. They are on the front lines, encountering people on a daily basis. Already, more than 500 law enforcement officers across Arkansas have received training in crisis intervention.
All new recruits at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy will receive 16 hours of crisis-intervention training. A nine-hour course is available online through the Criminal Justice Institute for veterans who want to train.
The four CSUs are expected to provide care for approximately 4,800 people annually. This is potentially 4,800 people who will receive treatment for a mental-health problem. The CSUs couple compassion with law enforcement to allow for those who need treatment instead of punishment.
Many of us know of a person who endlessly cycles through arrest, conviction, and jail, and no one recognizes or addresses the underlying problem. CSUs will allow us to break that cycle for many.
I am grateful for the work and compassion that has gone into the launch of this program. We will transform life for many.
Asa Hutchinson is the 46th governor of the state of Arkansas. Visit the Governor’s website at governor.arkansas.gov .