Cross County exploring option of new jail

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

WYNNE, AR (KAIT) – County officials in Wynne Wednesday gave a tour of the county jail, which they said is in need of replacement.

According to Cross County Sheriff J.R. Smith, the 40-year old jail is deteriorating and maintenance costs are rising. Smith said he's exploring options of a new jail and how much a project would cost taxpayers.

"We want to shoot for at least a 150-200 bed jail and then we could house other county prisoners, state prisoners and federal prisoners to offset costs of building," said Smith.

Smith said he has discussed the project with several county leaders, including some construction companies. Currently the plan is to gather information on how much a new jail would cost to build and what its main purpose would be. Smith said he'd like a courtroom to be built in such a way to where inmates would be brought before a judge without having to bring them in front of public. He cited security concerns. He also said he'd like the jailer to be monitoring cells in a circular pattern.

"Now it's just a long hallway, and you have to go down and visually check the cells, where if we reconfigured it, we could have the pods monitored 24/7 with the jailer right there," said Smith.

John Collier is the administrator of the Cross County Jail. He said the cost of maintenance has risen. He said many inmates destroy or heavily damage jail property.

"Usually they come in angry anyway, and they're very destructive. We've had damage to this one, damage to the floor. They usually try to tear the plumbing up," said Collier.

Collier said the jail is licensed to house 86 inmates at one time. He said they've housed as many as 96 at one time. As of Wednesday, the jail was holding fewer than 50 inmates.

"The actual plan is to build 135-150 bed facility. One that can house more state inmates or possibly federal inmates," said Collier. "We're up to the point that we feel we could probably build a new jail cheaper than we could bring this one up to standards."

Collier said one section of the jail has 6 pods, which can house 8 inmates a piece. The older section, built in the 60's, can hold 32 inmates.

"We have deficiencies mainly just from worn out, either broken windows, broken locks, which we try to repair, but it's a continuous thing," said Collier. "All of our electrical doors, we have quite a few that aren't working. We had to go to manual locks."

Cross County Quorum Court Member Lynn Blake, who is also on the building committee, said Wednesday the preliminary estimated cost of the project would be around $6-million, which would include the courtroom and office space. Blake said one possible way to fund the project is with a bond issue, which would be voted on by residents on the county.

"If we don't meet standards and they shut our jail down eventually, the cost is going to be so high to the county because we're going to have to carry them somewhere," said Blake. "How are we going to fund it? What design will we go with once we know we can get the funding? And what the funding is going to bring in so we know what we can go with."

Collier said one problem the jail faces is the fact that many other jail systems are overcrowded. He noted the overcrowding situation in central Arkansas.

"They've got 200-250 inmates waiting to go to the Arkansas Department of Corrections, and they're all overloaded," said Collier. "Where we do have troublesome inmates, we can't separate them like we should be able to and isolate them."

Cross County Judge Jack Caubble said he'd demolish the jail and rebuild if the project was up to him. He said it's obvious the county needs a new jail.

"It might be in one of our unincorporated cities, or even outside the city limits because it is a county jail," said Caubble. "A company came in showing us new jails. Ours is just showing its age."

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