The Arkansas Public Policy Panel released today calling for the state to invest in mental-health crisis centers, where criminal offenders with mental health issues would get treatment, rather than simply being incarcerated.

The report, based on programs in San Antonio, Oklahoma, Georgia, New Mexico and Oregon, projects the crisis centers would save the state $140 million per year. The diversion would lead to less recidivism, said Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Public Policy Panel. 

“A lot of the people that we’re currently having to pay for in system could be treated with Medicaid dollars, saving the state money while providing them better health outcomes,” Kopsky said. “These programs also make the community safer because they allow the police to focus on the people who’re true threats to the community.”

Kopsky said the Panel supported a bill in the 90th Arkansas General Assembly that would have provided pilot funding for mental health crisis centers. The compromise measure that passed, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, instead created the Behavioral Health Treatment Access Task Force to study the issue. The Panel presented this report to the task force today. 

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“The initial findings are so overwhelmingly positive Arkansas must follow up with more detailed analysis,” Kopsky said in a statement. “It is clear that failing to meet the needs of people with mental illness in an appropriate setting will result in larger drains on the state budget, less humane outcomes for people with mental illness and less public safety.”