FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Northwest Arkansas Crisis Stabilization, also known as the Washington Co. Crisis Stabilization Unit, will close for an unknown period of time after its provider provided notice to end the contract.
The CSU, which first opened two years ago, gave people dealing with a mental health crisis an opportunity to avoid jail when committing low-level crimes. The unit was created to thin out the Washington Co. Jail population and play a part in progressive community policing.
Ozark Guidance Counseling, which has served as the provider for the unit since its opening, provided notice months ago that it intended to dissolve its contract, said Sheriff Tim Helder. No replacement provider has been hired at this time, and the CSU will close for an unknown amount of time.
“Every day that passes, we have the possibility that someone loses their life,” said Sarah Moore, the co-founder of the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition, a group that promotes jail alternatives. “I don’t say that to be dramatic. That’s just the nature.”
Ozark Guidance Counseling administrators didn’t respond to a request for comment Friday, but Helder said state funding fell through. Helder said the unit has been effective since it first opened.
“Everybody’s working hard to figure out who our next provider’s going to be,” Helder said. “It’s been very convenient for us here in Washington County, because it’s right here in Fayetteville. The Fayetteville Police Department is our primary user.”
Sgt. Tony Murphy said the Fayetteville Police Dept. took about 20 people to the CSU over the last year, and that the department’s social work intern program could supplement the work done at the unit.
In a statement, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) indicated other crisis stabilizations will step up.
“There will be a period of transition as we look for a new provider, but the crisis stabilization unit will remain open,” Hutchinson said. “During the transition, law enforcement will be able to transport people in mental-health crisis to the Sebastian Co. crisis stabilization unit.”
Murphy said the hours-long process it’ll take to transport people to Fort Smith may prove too taxing for some officers. Going to these places is a voluntary choice, so he said it’s even more likely people won’t make the choice to go all the way to Sebastian Co.
“People probably won’t voluntarily go that far away from their home or far away from their loved ones that support them when they’re in situations like this,” Murphy said.
Moore said each day the unit’s doors are closed is another day for possible calamity.
“It’s just one less resource to help our community and give them the healthcare they need,” Moore said.
Brian Lester, Washington Co.’s attorney, said he plans to update the county quorum court Monday about the next steps decisionmakers will take to replace the provider.