Sebastian County is working to secure funding to establish a mental health court.

County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Shue said the county is in the process of obtaining a federal grant for the establishment of the program titled "The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program Fiscal Year 2018 Competitive Grant." The application for the grant is due May 29.

Shue is working with County Judge David Hudson, Circuit Judge Annie Hendricks and Rusti Holwick with the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center to get the application in. Others involved with the grant application include Sasha Grist and Ashley Garris with the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District and Kari Powers with the Administrative Office of the Courts.

When asked if it has been determined yet how a Sebastian County mental health court would operate, Hudson said the county is working on many of those details. Hudson said a big target of a Sebastian County mental health court is a collaborative county approach to reducing the prevalence of people with serious mental illness in the county jail.

"So it'd be diverting these individuals from being held in jail to treatment, similar to what we're doing with the crisis stabilization unit and more similar, really, to the drug court program, to where an individual is given an opportunity to address their issues through treatment and not be further adjudicated, but to be given an opportunity to restore their life, really, through treatment and ... taking accountability for themselves," Hudson said.

The grant is for $750,000 spread over three years, Shue said. Hudson said it is an 80-20 matching grant through the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. A resolution to allow the county judge to submit the grant, with the local 20 percent match to be provided through existing salaries and not through an additional appropriation of other funds, will be discussed during the Sebastian County Quorum Court meeting Tuesday.

Hudson said he was notified via email by Nastassia Walsh of the National Association of Counties that the grant funding had been opened April 30. Among the materials that have to be submitted as part of the grant application are an executive summary, or abstract, and a more detailed narrative on the proposed program and how the county would address the key initiatives that the grant is allowing funding to support.

"And so the grant has to be written and structured to address those key initiatives so it would be favorably evaluated and funded, and of course ours is going to be focusing on supporting the implementation and operation of a mental health court," Hudson said.

The Mental Health Specialty Court Act of 2017 became law Aug. 1 and aims to reduce recidivism rates using “evidence-based practices of supervision, policies, procedures and practices.” Recidivism is the tendency of a person to reoffend.

Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, last year pointed out the direct link between jail recidivism rates and the high number of children in Sebastian County who are in the foster care system.

“It’s going to take a cultural change,” Boyd said in June. “Arguably, the Sebastian County jail is over capacity and, historically, kids have been kept in foster care here longer than any part of the state.”