September 10, 2014 Edition

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County to look into
locations for new jail

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

After a recent review of the Lawrence County Jail, the Arkansas Jail Standards Committee voted to close the facility. Working with Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the county was able to get a six-month extension, which will provide the time needed to determine the next course of action.

The current jail has failed multiple inspections and has been deemed of inadequate size to fully serve the county.

Meetings were held Thursday and Monday night to discuss the county jail's future. County Judge Dale Freeman said to build a new jail from the ground up would cost $8-$10 million.

Arkansas Jail Standards Coordinator Danny Hickman said that little has been done to the jail in the past 10 years. Hickman said the only way the current facility could be used is if the county decreased the population housed there, however the 42-bed facility is almost always overcrowded.

The county has the option to house inmates in other jails but Freeman said the cost would strain the county too heavily. The facility in Greene County has enough available beds but the fee required to house Lawrence County inmates could cost upwards of $2,000 a day, according the Freeman.

Several possible locations for a new jail are being researched. The county owns 6.2 acres of property it purchased from The Children's Shelter. At Thursday's meeting, former sheriff Dan Ellison said the county bought that property for a justice facility, a project that started in 2009 and has been stalled for several years. The court never asked for the tax increase needed for the facility.

Justice Jim Jones said that projects to expand and improve the jail were not pursued because Lawrence County's economy has not been able to sustain the tax increase required.

Local businessman C.L. Clark echoed those sentiments Monday night stating that Lawrence County cannot afford another sales tax increase. He said the county needs to research every possible option before asking for an increase.

Freeman said that he has been looking into grant opportunities and other options to save money. One of the best money saving options to be presented is to use an existing building and retrofit it to become the new jail. The new gymnasium and agriculture building at the recently closed Black Rock campus are both being considered for this purpose.

Architecture and construction firms have already been lined up to evaluate the Black Rock buildings throughout the week. Walnut Ridge Alderman Jeff Taylor also requested the county look into the old Higginbotham Funeral Service property.

Officials have been researching the new Jackson County jail, which recently broke ground. The 104-bed facility is being built through a sales tax. Jones said that both the county population and the jail population are similar to Lawrence County.

Freeman said they are looking to build a 120-bed facility if possible and, for that to happen, a sales tax would have to be passed. The judge said the court is going to have to take some time to do its research and get accurate information before any further action is taken, but he said that every option he's looked into will require a sales tax and some require as much as a two-cent increase.

"If we're going to have a jail, we have to pay for it," he said.

At the end of the six months extension the jail standards committee will reevaluate the jail. Hickman said they would work with the county to try to keep the jail open as long as the county is working towards opening a new jail.

Justice Alex Latham said that during this extension, the court needs to take the time to come up with a good long-term solution. "We don't want to build something that's going to be obsolete in a few years. That's just wasting the tax payers' money."

In other business, at the Monday night meeting:

  • funds were appropriated to the road department and the 911 center for the over payment of county employees.

  • a travel ordinance concerning reimbursement for mileage was passed.

  • Margaret Snapp was appointed to the Lawrence County Library Board.

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