Sebastian County and Fort Smith officials came together to talk about population management for the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center.
The subcommittee of the Sebastian County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee discussed recommendations to manage jail overcrowding during its meeting Tuesday. Those at the meeting included Sebastian County Judge David Hudson, Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken, Fort Smith City Prosecuting Attorney John Settle, Fort Smith Police Department deputy director of administrative services Michael Varner, Fort Smith Police Department Capt. Danny Baker, Sebastian County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Hobe Runion, Sebastian County Jail Administrator William Dumas and Rusti Holwick, CEO of the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center.
The subcommittee reviewed an April 2017 report from the Council of State Governments on jail population management for Sebastian County. The report was also discussed during the May 15 meeting of the planning committee of the coordinating committee.
"As I've been working through this process of trying to deal with the crowded jail, we looked at building a new addition and so on, and we don't have the operating money, and I've been talking to potential consultants that said, 'What kind of studies have you had done and what have you done with these studies,'" Hudson said. "And so we had this study done, and there are still a list of components to it that we haven't specifically reviewed, so that's kind of driving this meeting."
The recommendations in the report pertained to four different key measures. These measures included reducing the number of people booked into jail, including designated priority for those with mental illness and substance abuse disorders, reducing the average length of stay of people booked into the jail, including those with mental illnesses and/or substance abuse disorders, increasing the percentage of people connected to supervision and community-based services upon release from jail and reducing recidivism for people released from jail.
One of the recommendations on reduction of the number of people booked into jail talked about creating a collaborative city-county oversight team to manage all specialized behavioral health police responses. The team would be comprised of Sheriff's Office and Fort Smith Police Department officers.
"What I'm understanding, this is not asking anybody in the city of Fort Smith to go out of your political jurisdiction," Hudson said. "This is asking the city of Fort Smith and the county to collaborate to figure out how we can handle arrests within the city of Fort Smith where most arrests are going to occur related to mental health or other issues."
The report states Sebastian County does not appear to have a current division overseeing responses to people with behavioral health needs. Hudson said what this oversight team would be and how it would work remains to be worked out.
Other recommendations related to the measure discussed included determining if the current level of services provided by the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center can be expanded to include triage services and other services, and standardizing a set of questions for 911 dispatchers to ask to identify whether the call is related to a mental health crisis and develop protocols for prearrest diversion based on the answers to these questions.