NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) - Jackson County has been given a six-month extension by the Arkansas Jail Standards Committee, giving the county time to come up with a plan to alleviate problems with overcrowding and understaffing. According to Sheriff David Lucas, Jackson County has more than 90 active inmates. The jail in Newport only has room for 26 inmates.
"I don't know what the answer is now. I really don't. With the way the economy is here in Jackson County, I just don't know. I just really don't know what's going to happen," said Lucas.
News that the county has been given an extension comes on the heels of a failed attempt to fund jail expansion. The county, which is looking to build an additional 48 barracks style cells, examined a possible one-cent sales tax on alcohol.
"A tax on mixed drinks only. The other statute dealt with taxing private clubs, which is what Jonesboro does," said Lucas.
Lucas said there are too few private clubs in Jackson County and state law prohibits taxes on beer and wine.
"We don't have a whole lot of private clubs in the county since we're a wet county. We have a lot of liquor stores and beer establishments," said Lucas. "Jackson County only made about $11,000 in a year's time on that. It's not feasible."
"People have talked about passing another tax, but I don't believe another sales tax would pass right now," said Jim Cooper, Jackson County Quorum Court.
Region 8 News asked Jackson County Judge Kerry Tharp about funding for the jail. He said the county operates on $6.5-million budget. Of that, $1-million is budgeted for the county jail.
Another problem the county may face in the future is the fact it's running short on cash.
"I've got about 21 inmates that we're having to pay White County and hold for us at the tune of about $29,000 a month. I just got my first bill today," said Lucas.
Lucas said if the jail was forced to shut down, then the county would have to pay in excess of $1-million in housing costs each year.
"When you don't have a solution to the problem and it's just a continuing problem, that's where we start getting into trouble," said Lucas.
"We're still trying to raise the money. It's going to cost about $800,000 to add 48 beds to the jail and then it's going to take probably another $150,000 to man it," said Cooper.
According to Lucas, the county has been shipping inmates to White, Independence, Poinsett and Craighead Counties.
"We have a lot of misdemeanor inmates that, instead of being sent to jail, they're sentenced to community service work where they come in every day and we'll send them with the dog catchers or with city parks or the recycling center, places like that where they actually work instead of going to jail and we give them credit for that," said Lucas.
"With the influx of the drug crimes, with the economy the way it is now, the crime rate is going up, we're arresting more people, more people are going to jail, we're getting a lot more of the violent offenders where their bonds are a lot higher so they can't get out of jail, so that all plays a big part in the jail overcrowding," said Lucas.
Lucas also told Region 8 News a lack of space leads to other problems.
"When an inmate shows up on Friday afternoon to do their weekends and we don't have room for them, we have to turn them away; therefore there's no deterrent there. They don't get to do their jail time. They just go on about their business," said Lucas.