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Act 911 of 1989 pertains to the evaluation, commitment, and conditional release of individuals acquitted of a crime when found Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Disease or Defect. The evaluation process, completed by a certified forensic psychologist or psychiatrist, assesses the defendant’s fitness to proceed to trial and, if the defendant is found fit to proceed, mental state at the time of the crime. If the defendant is found not fit to proceed, the proceedings against the defendant are suspended, and the court may commit him/her for detention, care, and treatment at the Arkansas State Hospital (ASH) until restoration of fitness to proceed. Once fit to proceed, a re-evaluation includes an assessment of mental state at the time of the crime. This opinion can result in acquittal if it is determined that, at the time of the conduct charged, the defendant lacked capacity—as the result of mental disease or defect—to conform his/her conduct to the requirements of the law or to appreciate the criminality of his/her conduct.
Arkansas’s Act 911 was adopted soon after other states began enacting similar laws to monitor forensic patients released from psychiatric facilities. The California forensic conditional release program (CONREP), for instance, was mandated in 1984 and began operating in 1986. New York State renamed a section of mental health law in 1961 to address discharge, conditional release, and convalescent status of patients. These conditional release laws were established as one component of the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients into community mental health settings. Currently, all U.S. states have some conditional release statute.
In Arkansas, individuals acquitted due to mental disease or defect may be committed for psychiatric treatment at ASH. Upon completion of inpatient treatment, these individuals are discharged from the hospital on a conditional release order that allows the state to monitor their community functioning for up to five years (petitions can be made for adjustments in monitoring period). Since 1998, the conditional release program has been under the supervision of the ASH Social Work Department. Licensed social workers monitor conditionally released individuals for compliance with the terms of release. These terms include participation with court-ordered medical, psychiatric, or psychological care determined to be appropriate for the client’s mental disease or defect. Individuals on “911 status” are required to comply with medications, treatment and therapy, substance abuse treatment, and drug testing as prescribed.
If release conditions are violated, a written notice is provided to the monitor, client’s attorney, state’s attorney, and the circuit court having jurisdiction. The individual is subject to detainment, a hearing, and potential commitment to a facility determined appropriate by the court with the understanding that the individual’s failure to comply with prescribed treatment means that his/her continued release poses a substantial risk to the community.
During the 2011 fiscal year, 1,406 forensic evaluations were completed statewide. As of April 31, 2012, 458 individuals were on Act 911 status due to acquittal by reason of mental disease or defect. Of these, seventy-two were receiving inpatient treatment at Arkansas State Hospital and the remaining 386 were conditionally released in the community. The 911 program has received recent media attention due to individuals on 911 status receiving new criminal charges while living in the community. In April 2010 in Garland County, and in March 2012 in Jacksonville (Pulaski County), individuals on conditional release were charged with murder. Cases such as these have resulted in public concern about the Act 911 procedures and community safety. These concerns are valid given the severity of the documented re-offenses. However, based on available data, there were only nineteen revocations in 2011 among all individuals placed on 911 status. It appears that this program works well for the vast majority of individuals by providing treatment and support within a community setting.
For additional information:
Act 911 of 1989. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/1989/R/Acts/911.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012).
Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services. http://humanservices.arkansas.gov/dbhs/Pages/default.aspx (accessed May 23, 2012).
Little Rock, Arkansas
Hillary R. Hunt
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 9/7/2012
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