FAYETTEVILLE — County Judge Joseph Wood wants a mental-health crisis stabilization unit in a building now housing a circuit courtroom, he said during a law enforcement and jail committee meeting Monday.
“We are looking for a winwin,” said Wood about his plan.
Justices of the peace said they hope the unit will keep people in a mental crisis out of the Washington County Detention Center, which has been crowded.
Putting the crisis unit inside the judicial annex at 123 N. College Ave. will mean moving Circuit Judge Joanna Taylor to the courthouse. The Public Defender’s Office likely will stay at the annex building, Wood said.
Taylor said via phone Monday night she has no problem moving her courtroom.
During a June 4 meeting with leaders of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Wood agreed not to push forward with a plan to put the crisis unit on county property leased by UAMS, and university officials agreed to renegotiate the leases on property UAMS doesn’t actually use, Wood told committee members.
Negotiation between the county and UAMS are ongoing, Wood said. Justice of the Peace Butch Pond, a Republican representing eastern Washington County, said he’s pleased with the outcome.
“I will alleviate concerns all the way around,” he said.
Finding a place to put the 16-bed crisis unit is an important to get money from the state government, which plans to pay for each unit $1.6 million annually for operating costs. The money doesn’t include construction costs, which Wood said could run as high as $400,000.
The f irst of the four state-funded units opened in Fort Smith early this year, but the three others approved by the state haven’t opened.
Advocates had begun to worry the Northwest Arkansas unit, which was to open in November, had stalled. Nancy Kahanak, coordinator for the Judicial Equality for Mental Illness coalition, recently wrote Wood about her concerns, she said.
The coalition has pushed for years for a system to divert people with mental illness from jail and prison. The newest announcement means officials are working together, said Kahanak, who wasn’t at the meeting Monday.
“To me, it seems like a move forward. It’s a good thing,” she said.
Scarlet Sims can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAScarlets.