Contact: Kyle Leyenberger 479-544-7878 or 501-376-7913 ext. 13

Panel Report Suggests Mental Health Focused Prison Reform Could Save Arkansas $140M/Year

On Thursday, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel presented a report to state legislators on the potential benefits of mental health reform in our prison system.

The report suggests diverting people with mental illness into crisis centers rather than jails could provide better mental-health care and promote public safety at a fraction of the cost of incarceration. The reforms will require new investments in our mental health care system, but those expenses will be far outweighed by the savings from the criminal justice system.

“Diversion is far less expensive, more humane, more effective and safer than simply sending people with mental issues to prison,” says Panel Executive Director Bill Kopsky. “Arkansas has thousands of prisoners with mental health issues. Sending these people to treatment allows the system to focus resources on those who are true threats to society.”

One year's worth of trial and jail time for each person costs the state about 20 times as much as crisis treatment and counseling would for the same person with mental problems. 

The report estimates the savings at close to $140 million each year, with the added benefit of reduced recidivism, reduced criminal behavior in the future, and law enforcement officials capable of focusing attention on true threats to public safety.   

The report projects the costs of one year’s services at a crisis center at $10 million, compared to $150 million for incarceration. In addition, DHS estimates that Medicaid would pay between $2 to $3 Million during the next several years, leaving a net cost to Arkansas of about $7.5 Million annually to provide better, more appropriate services to people with mental illness. 

The report bases its conclusions on analysis of costs and outcomes of similar programs in San Antonio, TX; Oklahoma; Georgia; New Mexico; and Oregon. It applies the savings in these states to the current costs of adjudication, incarceration, and treatment for Arkansas’ mentally ill. The report acknowledges that it is only an initial analysis of potential savings and that a deeper study is warranted. The study recommends that the state prepare a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the proposed Arkansas crisis treatment centers.

“The initial findings are so overwhelmingly positive Arkansas must follow up with more detailed analysis,” Kopsky said. “It is clear that failing to meet the needs of people with mental illness in an appropriate setting will result in larger drains on the state budget, less humane outcomes for people with mental illness and less public safety.”  

The Arkansas Behavioral Health Treatment Access Legislative Task Force met on Thursday, June 18, 2015, at 1:30 P.M. in Room B of the MAC Building, Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Please call me at 479-544-7878 if you have any questions or need additional information.

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel is a statewide organization dedicated to achieving social and economic justice by organizing citizen groups around the state, educating and supporting them to be more effective and powerful, and linking them with one another in coalitions and networks. The Panel seeks to bring balance to the public policy process in Arkansas.