By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff
A man who was suicidal and homeless, a woman found wandering on the median of an interstate—these are just two of the people in Arkansas who have received life-saving treatment at crisis stabilization units (CSUs). These facilities serve as alternatives to jail, where law enforcement officers can place people experiencing mental health crises who have been arrested for nonviolent offenses.
The first CSU opened in Sebastian County in March 2018; since then, it has received more than 1,800 referrals and nearly 1,200 admissions. The Pulaski County CSU, which opened in August 2018, has received over 800 referrals and 400 admissions. Although the centers have experienced some initial growing pains, such as low numbers of referrals from law enforcement and payment issues, they are on track to meet the goal of serving 100 clients per month at each center. The Washington County CSU opened in June 2019, and, as of this month, the fourth and final one became operational in Craighead County.
Before these units existed, people experiencing a mental health crisis who came into contact with police were often taken to jail, which caused crowding in county jails that are simply not equipped to provide the kind of care and treatment that CSUs can.
The man mentioned above, for example, was struggling with mental illness and substance addiction when he was referred to the Pulaski CSU by law enforcement. He arrived depressed, shoeless, and unable to speak to staff, but the staff were able to get him back on medication and into long-term substance addiction treatment.
“He left cheerful, fully clothed, started on effective medications, and with an elaborate relapse prevention plan and connection with a great rehab facility,” said Lisa Evans, program director of the Pulaski CSU. “He was extremely grateful, and the team was very proud of his achievements in his short stay with us. He has some criminal history and is justice-involved and very easily could have ended up in jail, prison, or worse.”
The state allocated $6.4 million to operate the four units and provide Crisis Intervention Team training to law enforcement officers. Established as a result of the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act of 2017 (Act 423)—the culmination of the state’s months-long Justice Reinvestment approach—the CSUs are expected to not only alleviate jail crowding but reduce recidivism and court caseloads.