LITTLE ROCK — The cost to prosecute and incarcerate a mentally ill prisoner over a year’s time is about 20 times higher than the cost to provide the same person with crisis treatment and counseling, according to a new report.

LITTLE ROCK — The cost to prosecute and incarcerate a mentally ill prisoner over a year’s time is about 20 times higher than the cost to provide the same person with crisis treatment and counseling, according to a new report.


"A Brief Cost Analysis of Arkansas Mental Health and Prison Reform" was commissioned by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and prepared by Histecon Associates of Little Rock. It was presented Thursday to the Behavioral Health Treatment Access Legislative Task Force.


The report draws on data from the Arkansas Department of Correction and the Arkansas Department of Human Services, as well as data from four states and one city that have implemented reforms targeting mentally ill offenders: Oklahoma, Georgia, New Mexico, Oregon and San Antonio, Texas.


A 2009 study cited in the report found that about 3,500 adults with serious mental illnesses are incarcerated in Arkansas prisons, or 20 percent of the average state Department of Correction population. Another 1,200 adults with mental health issues are in local jails across the state, and about 150 juveniles with at least one mental condition are adjudicated in the state’s juvenile justice system.


The present cost of keeping a prisoner in a state facility is about $63 per day, or about $23,000 per year. The average cost of adjudicating a criminal suspect through the law enforcement and court system is about $6,300, so the total first-year cost to process and imprison a mentally ill person is close to $30,000, according to the report. For about 5,000 mentally ill prisoners statewide, that comes to a total of $150 million.


In contrast, the report estimates the cost of a year’s service worth of services at a crisis center at about $10 million, of which the federal government would pay all but about $7.5 million.


"While it must be recognized that these are rough approximations of the costs involved, the resulting cost ratio of 20:1 presents a powerful conclusion that crisis treatment centers should be seriously considered in Arkansas and elsewhere," the report states.


The report also notes that according to national data, prisoners with mental illness are more expensive than average prisoners, so "this ratio could be 25:1 or higher."