Sebastian County sobering center prep underway; former mobile classroom may be donated for program

FORT SMITH — A new program aimed at helping ease overcrowding at the Sebastian County Jail may find a place to call home later this month.

Rusti Holwick, chief executive officer for the Fort Smith Guidance Center, told the Sebastian County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee at its meeting Tuesday that the center will be able to begin recruiting, training and staffing for a new center sobering after providing a building to house the program.

Holwick said she, Circuit Judge David Hudson and Steve Hotz, who will become a circuit judge when Hudson’s term expires at the end of this year, would look at a modular building belonging to the Fort Smith school district that afternoon. to see if it would be suitable. to use.

She confirmed on Friday that the building would be “more than adequate”. A memorandum and presentation regarding the planned use of the facility and the outreach center program will be prepared for the upcoming School Board meeting on November 14th. The board will consider approving the donation of the facility.

The sobering center will be a place where law enforcement can divert non-dangerous or violent intoxicated people from the county jail to receive short-term treatment. The prison has had overcrowding problems for years.

The Sebastian County Quorum Court approved spending $675,300 of the county’s American Rescue Plan money on Sept. 27 to establish and operate a sobriety center as a pilot program through the Guidance Center from Oct. 1 through 2023. Danny Baker, chief of Fort Smith police said the department pledged $100,000 to help set up the facility as well.

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Hudson wrote in a memo to the Quorum Court that the program would be housed in a portable building as a short-term facility. The Quorum Court will review the program and determine whether to continue paying for it from other revenue sources in 2023.

Baker said Tuesday that he believes it is important to move forward on the clearinghouse program quickly to have as much time as possible to demonstrate success with it before the end of 2023.

“If there’s any expense or cost associated with setting this up, moving this trailer, doing whatever else needs to be done, I’ll be able to support that,” Baker said.

Shari Cooper, director of communications for the School District, confirmed that the School Board will hear and consider the possible donation of a modular building for the sobering center on November 14.

Craig Tecmire, the district’s purchasing supervisor, said the building is a former mobile classroom with a classroom on each side and a bathroom in the middle.

Gunner DeLay, chairman of the committee, asked Holwick on Tuesday about the target launch date for the recovery center. Holwick said a date will depend on when the Guidance Center has enough staff hired.

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Holwick said Friday that the Guidance Center will try to time the hiring of staff with preparing the School District’s modular building to be a guidance center if it receives the donation. She expressed the hope that by the end of January there will be staff of the sober center, which will include two people working in shifts. The length of the shifts will be determined at some point in the future.

The Guidance Center, a nonprofit behavioral health care provider, has staffed and operated the West Five Crisis Stabilization Unit of Sebastian County, which has been used to divert those with mental illness from jail to treatment in Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Scott and Polk. counties since 2018.

The Quorum Court established the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee in August 2017 to find ways to reduce the prison population and improve the justice system.

In addition to the county’s crisis stabilization unit and sobering center, potential solutions include drug, veterans and mental health courts; alternative sentencing and diversion programs; special expedited court dockets; electronic monitoring and signature bonds for non-violent crimes; and a text message notification system for defendants in criminal court cases.


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The exterior of a former mobile classroom owned by the Fort Smith School District is seen Thursday. The facility could be the site of a new sober living center for Sebastian County if the Fort Smith School Board approves its donation for that purpose at its Nov. 14 meeting. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)



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The interior of a former mobile classroom owned by the Fort Smith School District is seen Thursday. The facility could be the site of a new sober living center for Sebastian County if the Fort Smith School Board approves its donation for that purpose at its Nov. 14 meeting. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)


Justification

Below is a list of people booked into the Sebastian County Jail from 2018 through September 2022 who could have been diverted to a sobriety center, according to a report the county provided at Tuesday’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee meeting. Specific charges and combinations of charges were selected at the recommendation of district court judges in the county.

Public drunkenness alone: ​​1,853

Public intoxication with disorderly conduct: 284

Public drunkenness with criminal offense or loitering: 123

Criminal trespass or just loitering: 740

Disorderly conduct: 434

Source: Sebastian County

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