September 1, 2010 Edition

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Group meets to
discuss regional jail

Sheriff Dan Ellison (center) visits with David Cruseturner (left) of Little Rock and G. David Guntharp of Jonesboro, both of whom have worked in the Department of Corrections, following a meeting regarding the possible establishment of a regional jail.

John Bland

Representatives of six counties met in Walnut Ridge last Wednesday to discuss the possibility of building a regional jail. Dan Ellison, Lawrence County sheriff, organized the meeting to discuss a remedy to the problem of overcrowded jails that is apparently being experienced area-wide.

"We're going to have to do something," Ellison told the group of 21 assembled for this initial meeting. Representatives, including county judges, sheriffs and quorum court members, were present from Lawrence, Randolph, Sharp, Jackson, Clay and Greene counties.

"Each county has a problem with finances, but with a shared cost it could be possible," Ellison said.

A jail large enough to house some 300 to 500 prisoners is the size that has been initially proposed. It would house both male and female inmates but not juveniles, which require another set of special requirements, he added.

"Jail board standards are eating us all alive," said Junior Briner, member of the Lawrence County Quorum Court. "We're in a no win situation."

Several ideas were proposed as a method to fund a regional jail, including passing a sales tax or bond issue in the participating counties.

"I believe we're all in agreement that we've got problems with overcrowding," said Lawrence County Judge Alex Latham, who then suggested passage of a bond issue. "I think a bond issue is the only way you can ever build a regional jail."

"The regional concept for a landfill worked," added Latham.

"Don't you think you should stay in your judicial district," said Jim Jones, another Lawrence County Quorum Court member, regarding the participating counties in such a project.

G. David Guntharp of Jonesboro and a Lawrence County native, offered another option for funding a regional jail. "The federal government does pay to house prisoners," he said.

Guntharp retired earlier this year after a long career with the Department of Correction. The concept of a regional jail has "peaked my interest," he said.

David Cruseturner of Little Rock, who is also formerly with the Department of Correction, also spoke at the meeting. He is now a consultant with Brennan Re-Entry Program Management. "There are people who do private financing of jails. We are one of them," he said.

A federal program will pay approximately $75 a day for the housing of federal prisoners, Cruseturner said. "The federal program is a good thing," he said, adding that reserving a third of the beds for federal detainees can create a revenue stream.

"It's an industry more than it is a jail house," said Cruseturner.

Ellison told The TD that the next step is to form a committee of county representatives, get together, talk to consultants and start the research.

"We are to a stage where we are in a very critical situation," Ellison said of the overcrowded jails. "Something is going to have to be done."

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