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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

September 19, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Sept. 17, 2017.

Plans are progressing for a groundbreaking program that could have a great impact on Sebastian County in its efforts to alleviate overcrowding at area jails and provide help to those with mental-health problems. The county’s selection to take part in the newly created Crisis Stabilization program is a testament to the efforts of local officials to get the much-needed unit created here, and we applaud those who years ago saw the vision of such a facility. We also call for widespread support from throughout the community to help make the local CSU successful.

In August, Sebastian County was announced as one of four counties in Arkansas that will receive up to $1.6 million in funding from the state to operate a 16-bed facility. Legislation was approved this year for the units’ creation, but lobbying for them began much earlier, and Sebastian County led the way. In 2016, the county held a summit on the issue, and officials including County Judge David Hudson and Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck and legislators such as Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, have appeared before legislative panels to advocate for CSUs. Following their testimony, the Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force recommended the creation of CSUs. Gov. Asa Hutchinson embraced the idea and included $5 million for a pilot program in his proposed budget for fiscal 2018. The Legislature approved the funding.

Currently, there are plans being developed that would allow for a much-needed expansion of the Sebastian County Adult Detention Center; combining this with a shift toward keeping the mentally ill out of jail could prove to be the answer to problems with overcrowding.

Now that the county has been approved for funding to create a local CSU, officials have been working to create a template for development of the CSU. Gov. Hutchinson challenged each county to work efficiently to make the CSUs successful, and that appears to be happening in Sebastian County’s case. Officials have attended training sessions that will help get the CSU up and running while also narrowing its scope of work. Sebastian County also will work to build relationships with officials from Craighead, Pulaski and Washington counties, which are also working to create their own CSUs through the governor’s program.

“It’s bringing us all to the table together, and creating dialogue and relationships, so that we can, in fact, share in our experiences, ideas and in meeting certain guidelines and time frames,” Rusti Holwick, CEO of the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance, said recently.

It will be important that these CSUs are successful so state funding will continue to be allocated for their operations, Hudson said. He also hopes for the possible success-based expansion of new CSUs in other areas of the state.

What needs to happen now is recognition of the crisis stabilization unit’s importance in our area and a dedication to both its creation and support once the facility is open. Leaders in our area must embrace the CSU as something that will benefit the region as a whole and must find a way to lend a hand, whether it’s through advice on its implementation or help in crisis training for officers or something beyond. Keeping the mentally ill out of an overcrowded Sebastian County jail is just one benefit. The effects of recidivism can be seen in a variety of places, including the staggering foster-care numbers this area is currently experiencing. We can’t help but believe a facility created to assist the mentally ill will have a positive impact on local families who have experienced what it’s like to have a loved one in jail because the proper facility is unavailable. Keeping families together is a goal in any foster-care situation, and no doubt our local CSU will help in that regard.

Another important aspect of the CSU funding is the crisis intervention training that will be provided to local officers. While the CSU itself will be located in Sebastian County, officers who will be trained on how to recognize people with mental-health issues and how to de-escalate problems before they escalate into something worse will be on the streets in a six-county area. Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue said previously that diverting the mentally ill to treatment instead of jail “stops a lot of recidivism.”

“Those individuals that can be screened out, we can (put them on) a complete new path where they’re not in the criminal justice system and it’s not just the churning in and out of or jail and then ultimately in and out of our penitentiaries,” Shue said.

The mentally ill don’t belong in jail; they belong in facilities that are properly designed to help them. We are excited about what a crisis stabilization unit will mean for our area and are grateful to the leaders who are making such a facility a reality. We believe Sebastian County can be an example to other counties in how to create and operate a successful crisis stabilization unit. We are eager to see it come to fruition and have no doubt that its impact on the area will be immediate.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 19, 2017.

If confession is good for the soul, and it is, it can be even better for an institution like the press that covers and criticizes others. Familiar names from the past not only filled the old files but appeared in person on a panel at the Darragh Center in Little Rock the other day to evaluate the job the press did during the historic Little Rock Crisis of 1957.

On closer look, with the help of six decades’ worth of second-guessing, speculation and perspective in general, racial stereotypes tended to melt away. Not all black folks were persecuted heroes then, nor were all the white folks bullies. Not even all of Arkansas’ newspapers were champions of truth, justice and the all-American way — let alone fonts of objective journalism (if there’s any such thing outside the journalism textbooks).

Edith Moore was a toddler in ’57, but she can remember how scared her folks were at the prospect of their little darling’s having to attend a racially integrated school. “My parents were terrified for me to have to go to an integrated school,” she recalls, “because of what they read in the newspaper. If you see in the news where somebody is spitting on a black child, you really don’t want your child to be spit on.” So chalk up another victory for fear during those all too fearful days of what is now yore.

Appearing on this five-member panel looking back on it all were Phyllis Brandon, then of the Arkansas Democrat, Bill Lewis of the old Arkansas Gazette, and Ernie Dumas, who was co-editing his college paper then but would go on to star at the Gazette. Also on the panel were Tafi Mukunyadzi, a former AP reporter who graduated from Central in 2008, and John Kirk, who directs the Institute on Race and Ethnicity at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Talk about all deliberate speed, there was a lot more deliberation than speed before the president and commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States moved to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education handed down in 1954. It wasn’t until three years later that federal troops would be called on to enforce that decision and law of the land on Sept. 25, 1957 — a historic date for the rule of law in this country and state, one well worth cheering even now.

Tafi Mukunyadzi says the lack of voices other than those of white folks in the local media made it hard for this current generation to understand the full range of what the courageous Little Rock Nine experienced in the halls of Central. She told this panel: “It’s forcing students who are studying that history to really relate to those students and what they went through — it’s forcing them to look at it in a really different way.”

But old Clio, muse of history, has learned to be patient but also hopeful over the aeons. In the end, searching students tend to find the truth for themselves. Which is surely what the diligent and devoted among them will be doing this Sept. 25, all these decades later.

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Texarkana Gazette. Sept.19, 2017.

Well, Monday saw a lot of activity at the Arkansas Office of Finance and Administration in Little Rock.

That’s because it was the last day to get applications in for the state’s 32 medical marijuana dispensaries and five cultivation operations.

Until the weekend, only 52 would-be dispensary operators had submitted their paperwork, along with 19 who want to grow the stuff.

But, according to U.S. News and World Reports, as of noon Monday more than 100 new applicants had shown up at the DFA requesting paperwork. The wait was more than three hours. After the application is filled out, it must be reviewed by staff and that takes a while. Fortunately the DFA had anticipated the demand, but still it was slow going.

Now comes the next phase. DFA staff will process the applications and remove the names of companies or individuals to ensure fairness. Then the five-member Medial Marijuana Commission will go through the now anonymous applications and decide who gets to claim a piece of what no doubt will be an Acapulco — sorry, Arkansas — gold rush.

Of course, no one can say how long that will take. Each application is about 1,000 pages long.

And then? Well, the dispensaries can’t very well operate until they have something to dispense. That means the cultivation facilities must get up and growing.

Apparently the average growing season is 3 to 4 months, depending on any number of factors. Then there is testing, grading and packaging. Processing, too, if the stuff is to be made into edible products. Those Arkansans approved by the state for medical marijuana use_about 1,200 so far with more every day_will get their cards 30 days before the supply is expected in stores. By that time, we imagine the demand for the first crop will greatly exceed supply.

It’s likely many thought that voting for medical marijuana would mean quick access to the stuff. Far from it. It might be several months, maybe more than a year, before the applications are sifted, the crop is grown and dispensaries open their doors. Even then there might not be enough to go around.

There’s another hickey. The medical marijuana amendment allows cities to ban dispensaries by local option. And there are groups out there who say they are ready to begin gathering signatures to do just that. We haven’t heard of any movement in that direction locally, but there may be some places in the state where even those with a card might have to drive miles out of their way for access_sort of like those who live in dry counties and want to buy beer.

We opposed medical marijuana. Still do. We don’t think it’s a positive for the state. But we also understand that many disagree. Whatever your view, it looks like we won’t know what effect the new law will have on Arkansas for a long time to come.

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