Playing the lottery to get out of jail

By Brandi Hodges - bio | email

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) -- Too many prisoners and not enough jail cells.  For months we've told you about overcrowding at the Jackson County Jail.  Officials have come up with a "winning" idea to solve that problem.

"We kind of call it the lottery.  I think they even call it the lottery now," said Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas.

Over the last year Friday afternoons at the Jackson County Jail are usually buzzing with activity.  Sheriff David Lucas said it all started about a year ago.  Misdemeanor offenders sentenced to weekend jail time would show up the first few would get a bed and others would go home.  He said that's when they started playing the system.

"They'd wait till the last minute.  They'd show up thinking, 'Well, there are no more beds so they are going to send me home'," said Lucas.

That's when the sheriff's department changed the game.  People are supposed to show up here no later than six on Friday.

"They're all given a number, we put the numbers in a hat, we draw the numbers and whoever has the number we draw those are the ones that get the beds," said Lucas.

Once the beds are full, they send the other people home and give them a day's jail credit.

"It shocked them when we first started doing it because we're like, 'ok, have a seat we'll be with you in a minute', and at six o'clock we start drawing numbers and they're surprised they can still get a bed," said Lucas.

On Friday there were 38 people who were supposed to show up for the weekend but only four people showed up.  Jail Administrator Yravis Engler said this happens sometimes.

"Word's got out.  Last several weeks we've had room in the misdemeanor cell to keep weekenders and when word gets out that they're actually going to have to stay in jail they don't show up," said Engler.

In fact while we were there leading up to the "deadline" multiple cars pulled in and out of the lot.

"They're staking it out to see how many people are here.  Some know about the lottery some don't," said Engler.

And it's only really fair when the guilty do get to stay.

"There's no punishment.  There's no deterrent there.  Until we can get some extra beds in the jail it will just continue to rise," said Lucas.

All of the people who play the "lottery" at the jail have committed non-violent misdemeanors like public intoxication or shop lifting.  Sheriff Lucas said as long as they don't have room these crimes will still happen.

There are plans to add on to the existing jail, but with no new funding opportunities that is not happening any time soon.  They will wait and see if next week's lottery has any more contestants or if more will get "prizes" like added fines for not showing up.

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