Crisis stabilization unit opens in Fayetteville

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The Northwest Arkansas Crisis Stabilization Unit (NWACSU), one of four in the state, was officially opened in Fayetteville on Friday. The facility’s purpose is to help police divert the mentally ill from jail to treatment.

“It’s all designed to help those who have a mental health issue,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “They come in conflict with law enforcement, [and] historically, they’ve clogged the county jails. They’ve gotten into the criminal justice system when they really have a mental health problem.”

The NWACSU has 16 beds to accommodate what will be a short-term clinical facility to provide treatment for those whose mental-health problems cause them to perform acts that require police intervention. The hope is that these people don’t endure the psychologically-negative aspects of jail that would further complicate their issues and instead alleviate the underlying problems.

Washington County partnered with Ozark Guidance, a non-profit mental health center, to operate the unit at 105 N. Mill Ave. in Fayetteville. The center will serve Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison Counties.

“It is going to provide a critical alternative for individuals with behavioral health illnesses and allow us to be partners with law enforcement in shepherding people to treatment rather than jail,” said Laura Tyler, Ozark Guidance’s CEO. “Here at the CSU, clients will find access 24/7 to trauma-informed care, including a full array of staff to support them.”

Units are located in four counties: Washington, Sebastian, Pulaski and Craighead. In ACT 423 of 2017, the state legislature allotted $1.6 million annually to fund each facility. The entire operation is a pilot program, so future investments will be relative to the programs’ success.

“It’s a partnership between the state and local community to make this work and to provide this service to the people of this community,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the right thing to do for our community, for our citizens, and it takes a lot of training from our law enforcement that they’re engaged in.”

The state’s police academy gives an overall training session about mental health crises, and then a group of officers receives deeper training on the topic, said Sheriff Tim Helder of Washington County.

  “The criminal offense where we would take them to jail needs to be of a lower end, something that’s nonviolent, something that’s not going to require them to be in jail,” Helder said.

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