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State's responsibility

The Jonesboro Sun - 6/30/2018

Arkansas' Republican Legislature is avoiding responsibility for mental health care as demonstrated by the recent discussion in the Craighead County Quorum Court with the sheriff about accepting a $1.6 million operational fund for a Crisis Intervention Unit, avoiding putting mental cases in jail.

The sheriff needs this to avoid tying up so many deputies and jail space with mental patients who are troublesome but not committing criminal offenses. Without this, the county will need more jail space and more deputies. This amount is trivial compared to Arkansas' full obligations and will only be the start of yearly increasing costs that will dwarf the startup cost and construction cost of this unit.

The 96-hour maximum stay will not last, the county will soon be double bunking and budgeting more construction. The $1.6 million is a start to relieve the state of paying fully. Arkansas funds the State Psychiatric Hospital, which diagnoses those jailed awaiting trial. The millions this costs is a minor part of the state's responsibility to care for the mentally afflicted.

Arkansas is actively shunning its obligations for long-term and intermediate mental care by getting rid of facilities, such as the Services Center in Jonesboro. Arkansas' mental health ranking as 47th worst shows legislative motives, cost dodging.

Once the county takes the financial bait, officials will not find it easy to get rid of the unit and the increasing cost. Releasing mental cases into the county to save money will inevitably produce blowback on the county.

North Jonesboro had good reasons for rejecting this proposal. When the other 12 referral counties for this unit start to manipulate the system, Craighead will become a magnet as these counties help their local mental cases relocate and become Craighead County residents and budgetary responsibilities. A ride to Jonesboro and $100 should suffice; Arkansas will not step forward.

This unit is Arkansas' effort to dump its financial and humanitarian responsibility on Craighead County. Mental institutions must be somewhere, and Jonesboro and Craighead are logical places, but Arkansas should completely pay all the cost, including construction, from the start and forever. Until they agree, the $1.6 million is just bait for the gullible.

Harold Carter



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