Arkansas county could be forced to close jail

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – The Greene County Jail will have six months to make some progress to bring the jail back to compliance with Arkansas State Jail Standards.

According to a letter sent earlier in March, the 2nd Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee reinspected the jail on March 2nd. According to the letter, the committee found no improvement in "serious and liable conditions" at the jail. Greene County Sheriff Dan Langston said the problem relates to overcrowding, a systemic problem across the country.

"This is not the first letter we've received," said Langston. "This time it's all the beans. I approached them (Greene County Quorum Court) with my budget this year for $750,000 for outside housing; in other words to get the inmate population down to where I need it to be, which is 84."

Langston said Monday 154 inmates were residing in the 16-year old jail. He said the facility can only handle 72 male inmates and 12 female inmates at any given time.

"We're not housing any of Paragould's inmates unless it's a felon. We have to contain the felons," said Langston. "The only way we can keep it safe is to keep the bad guys off the street and incarcerated."

Greene County Judge Jerry Shipman said Monday he's anxious to work with county leaders on a plan of attack. The letter stated if the county was unable to make any progress over the next six months; it would file a lawsuit with the Arkansas Office of the Attorney General in circuit court to close the jail.

"The review committee reviewed our jail and the overcrowding keeps us out of compliance," said Shipman. "Greene County had 6 months to either bring the jail into compliance or they were going to close it."

The letter addressed a number of problems related to overcrowding; however, it also mentioned other issues.

"The Committee was very disturbed that you, the County Judge, and the Quorum Court are not able to discuss these problems with the Sheriff without casting blame or talking about what could have been. The time to fix these problems is now and all of you are going to have to work together to find a solution to these very DANGEROUS and LIABLE problems," the letter stated.

Shipman said he disagreed with the committee's findings.

"I think it (inspection) was very poorly conducted. I think the conclusion was poorly stated," said Shipman.

At the time of the inspection, the report claimed 140 inmates were staying at the jail, but it exceeded the maximum capacity of 110 inmates. It noted the number was lower than previous inspections.

"We have 32 state prisoners that have already been set to go to the state prison. If we have that 32 out of there, as far as the number of inmates, we would be in compliance," said Shipman. "We will do what's proper on that jail. We being the people of Greene County, but we all got to get on board."

Shipman said he's exploring options to reduce the number of inmates.

"We do not have sufficient funds to fund our jail and our local rural law enforcement officers," said Shipman. "If the public was kind enough to do a sales tax, it would bring like $5.4 million, a one-cent would, a year."

"We probably need an addition that will house probably 250 to 300 male inmates, in addition. We can use the present facility, which houses 84, we could use it for female population," said Langston. "We don't need a quick fix. We need something that will house our population, the growth of Greene County, for the next 20 years."

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