NEWPORT, Ark. (AP) - Construction is scheduled to begin soon on a new $8 million jail in Jackson County - the latest county detention center in the state that will be paid for by voter-approved sales tax increases.
The current 26-bed jail in Newport has been cited repeatedly for overcrowding, understaffing and too-small jail cells. The new facility will include 104 beds with room for expansion, County Judge Jeff Phillips told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1jtZaTl ).
Phillips said work has been slightly delayed because of the recent rainy weather, but construction should begin soon and last about 15 months.
“We’ve been dealing with all that rain,” Phillips said. “I’m hoping we can begin work within a couple of weeks after all that water dries up.”
The Arkansas Criminal Detention Facilities Committee placed the jail on its last six-month probationary period on Aug. 12, 2012. That probation ended after Jackson County voters approved two three-eighth percent sales taxes to pay for constructing a new jail and funding its operations.
“If we hadn’t passed that tax, we couldn’t build a jail,” Sheriff David Lucas said. “This jail would have shut down, and we would have been out of costs transporting prisoners to other counties. That would have bankrupted the county.”
Jackson County’s situation is one faced by many other counties in the state, where aging jails have been overwhelmed by an influx of inmates, particularly prisoners awaiting beds in state prisons. Voters in Garland, Greene, Nevada, Prairie, Crawford and Yell counties have all passed tax increases in recent years to pay for new jails.
“Counties have outgrown their jails,” said Danny Hickman, the detention facilities committee coordinator. “Every jail is overcrowded, and many are totally out of compliance.”
The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, which is pushing for a special legislative session to address jail overcrowding issues, said county jails are holding 2,650 state prisoners awaiting prison beds. Association president Ronnie Baldwin said it costs counties $18 million a year to house the state prisoners.
“Counties are letting prisoners go because they can’t afford to keep them,” he said. “It’s a major problem. People are finally starting to understand, and they’re building new jails. But it takes three years to (pass a tax and build a jail). We can’t keep going on like this.”
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com
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