Decision to be made on future of Greene County Detention Center

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Members of the Blue Ribbon Jail Project Committee, appointed by Greene County Judge Jerry Shipman, will make their recommendations before the Greene County Quorum Court Monday night regarding the inherit problems at the jail. According to Dave Tierney, who has been working with the committee, members are expected to recommend a construction project to expand the current facility by building a pre-engineered metal building. Tierney said the project would add 412 beds for inmates and end over-crowding problems for at least 20 years.

"For 14 years, we've hashed back and forth this jail problem. I believe we've found a solution," said Tierney. "Basically, the recommendation is to add 412 beds onto the existing facility and then to renovate the existing facility to a lower security, house lower security inmates."

Tierney, jail project coordinator, told Region 8 News the structure should not hold any less than 320 beds. He said Act 570, which changes sentencing for certain drug offenses and other criminal mandates, will increase the number of inmates housed locally. He said the state of Arkansas is trying to reduce its own inmate population.

"With the state signing Act 570 into law not too long ago, we're not for sure about how that's going to influx the number of people," said Rusty McMillan, chairman of the committee. "Other states are dealing with the same problems, overcrowding in their county jails. In the state of Arkansas, which is over 70% full in all county jails, there just would not be adequate housing for us to put our county prisoners in those other facilities."

If approved, voters would be able to make their voices heard November 8, 2011. The committee recommends a sales tax be voted on.

The project would be funded by a .375% county wide sales tax, which would raise money to pay for construction of a new jail. The bond, Tierney said, should be paid off in approximately 10 years. He also said each city and township in Greene County would benefit from the jail if they sign an agreement with the county. He said those city's would not have to pay daily housing fees for inmates.

"It's not going to be cheap. No solution is going to be cheap. Band aids are cheap. We don't want a band aid. We don't need a band aid," said Tierney. "Our concern was September 3rd, the deadline is just a couple of weeks away, the state has threatened to file a lawsuit with the attorney general to close our jail down because of non-compliance issues; overcrowding, understaffed."

Tierney said the 76,000 square foot structure would be built on the back side of the current jail. Tierney said there's approximately 14 acres of land available for this project and future expansion projects.

"It requires fewer people to man it and fewer people to supervise the inmates," said Tierney.

"They can look directly into these holding areas and see exactly what's going on. Maybe they can offset any kind of disruption," said McMillan.

McMillan said members of the committee have reviewed and visited several county jails around Region 8 and beyond. He said the proposed structure would have a "podular" design, minimizing the number of personnel to staff it.

"We have to provide adequate housing and keep it as safe as possible for our jailors," said McMillan. "The design that sits the control center right in the middle and then they're able, the person or individuals that are sitting in that control center, they can watch and look in this wagon wheel design and look into all of the jail holding centers."

Aside from construction, the committee also recommends the county hire additional employees. According to a report from the Greene County Sheriff's Office on July 19, 2011, Ron Harvey, Jail Administrator, recommended seven employees be hired at $171,291.04 per year. That includes three maintenance people at $24,657.36 annually, three jailors at $24,329.76 annually and one secretary at $24,329.76 per year.

The county could also either make money or break even on the jail. According to a report included in the Jail Needs Assessment Study, the jail would spend approximately $2,100,000 in the first year of its operation. Estimated operating revenues would amount to approximately $2,461,000 in the first year.

Tierney said the county is not getting into the "jail business." He said only inmates in Greene County will be housed at the facility unless beds are available.

"The complexion of crime has changed in Greene County tremendously. We're no longer dealing with shoplifters. We're dealing with bank robberies. We're dealing with murderers," said Tierney. "The people I've talked to understand the need. There's no question that the people of Greene County understand there is a need. They've been told for 14 years that there's a need."

"One of the judges that we spoke to, he said 'I'd put somebody in jail on a Friday and they're out Monday because we just don't have the space to house them.' Our sheriff, our police force has to come up with other ways," said McMillan. "We're looking at an option here that allows our court system to have a deterrent. 'Hey, I will put you in jail. We have the space to house you.' So maybe that might help alleviate some of that criminal activity."

According to the study, the Greene County Detention Center has averaged 140 inmates per day since 2006. Statistics indicate the jail has housed as few as 103 in that same time period and as high as 277. The jail is designed to house 84 inmates.

"The majority of people I've talked to are solidly behind it. They know this is not a new tax. It brings the tax to the level it was before the road and bridge bond expired last year," said Tierney. "We believe construction being able to start sometime late spring of 2012 and about eight or nine months to complete construction, so we're talking about spring of 2013."

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