Mental Health Forum Held in Arkansas

Article excerpt

A Community Forum on Mental Health and Criminal Justice, co-sponsored by the Benton County Bar Association and the University of Arkansas' Counselor Education Program, was held at Mercy Medical Center in Rogers, Arkansas on October 10, 2012. A recurring issue in Arkansas' courts, mental health issues often arise as a result of expert psychiatric reports to a circuit court judge - a judge with general trial jurisdiction - who then makes a finding that a defendant is mentally unfit and that the state's prosecution efforts must be suspended until appropriate treatment is provided in order to restore mental competency.

The defendant is typically in a local county jail, but the court's order directs that the defendant be transported to the state's only mental health forensic unit in Little Rock. The intent of the judge would be that such transport occur forthwith. What in fact routinely occurs is that the defendant remains in the local county jail from one to seven or eight months, during which time the defendant is not seen by a single mental health professional of any kind. This occurs because the Arkansas State Hospital only has one ward to serve the entire state, with 94 beds available for such forensic patients. There is thus a constant waiting list, which is reviewed on a daily basis by state hospital staff, but which is entirely dependent on a bed freeing up as another patient/defendant is discharged. …