Sheriff Discusses Plans To Rehabilitate Inmates With Mental Illness

SEBASTIAN COUNTY (KFSM) -- Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck along with deputies have developed a plan for a stabilization unit to help inmates with mental illnesses. If Governor Asa Hutchinson approves, the sheriff's office would be one of three centers to be built in Arkansas.

Michael Reed, the man who drove through a controversial Ten Commandments monument in Little Rock, destroying it, admitted in a letter in 2015 that he had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Sheriff Hollenbeck said people like Reed need to be rehabilitated rather than sent straight to jail.

"An eight foot by eight foot cell obviously is not very therapeutic for someone who is going through a mental crisis," Sheriff Hollenbeck said. "I've had parent after parents in this very office about the pain and suffering that the whole family goes through because they don't have anywhere to turn."

Sheriff Hollenbeck said Arkansas ranks low when it comes to the capability of identifying and treating people with mental illness.

"Often, they wind up in jail because there's no other place for law enforcement to take them once they respond to the scene," Sheriff Hollenbeck said.

With the stabilization unit, the sheriff's office could help inmates, hopefully preventing them from coming back to jail.

"If we can identify that person at an early stage while they're out committing a non-violent misdemeanor offense," Sheriff Hollenbeck said. "Maybe we can get them back on track, get them some help, get them on the medication they need to have."

Those like chief deputy Hobe Runion see it all too often and said it's time for a change.

"A person in need of mental healthcare is not gonna get the care they need in jail," Runion said. "Do we put the people in jail that we're afraid of or do we put the people in jail that we're mad at? We need to save jail for the people we're afraid of."

Sheriff Hollenbeck said deescalation training and properly educating deputies to be able to identify mental illnesses will be part of the plan along with the stabilization unit.

The proposal for the unit has been sent to Governor Hutchinson for approval.