Jackson County faces ultimatum about its jail

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – Problems have plagued the Jackson County Detention Center for years, but the state is forcing the county to find solutions soon, very soon.

After its most recent inspection, the state jail review board placed the Jackson County jail on its final six-month probationary period. This has essentially given the county an ultimatum – address the problems at the jail or lose it altogether.

"That is a top priority on our list as of right now," said Jeff Phillips, the Jackson County judge. "That's priority number one."

Phillips echoes Sheriff David Lucas, saying the county has reached a critical juncture where decisions will need to be made quickly. The county judge recently named a nine-person jail expansion committee. Its members met with the Jackson County Quorum Court Tuesday evening to discuss how to move forward.

"By us all pulling together, all coming up with ideas, then maybe we can figure out what's best for the citizens of the county and how we can take care of it," Phillips explained.

He says the committee will first identify some smaller projects to complete, hopefully appeasing the state before the next jail review this summer while still working on the long-term goal of expanding.

"We've got a citizen plus elected officials that are going to look into this and do everything we can to address the problems that we're currently having with the jail, make sure that those are taken care of and then look into what we need to do for the future," Phillips added.

He says permanent solutions may take time to formulate, but temporary steps have been taken to tackle one big issue – overcrowding. To free up bed space, Lucas began allowing non-violent offenders a chance to qualify for a new ankle monitoring program. In an interview last month with Region 8 News, the sheriff said it's only a temporary fix.

"It's not going to fix the overcrowding problem, but it does help," Lucas said in February.

 The sheriff says inmates pay $10 per day once they are fitted with an ankle monitor. The expense is nominal compared to the one that the county would face if the jail is forced to close. Phillips says moving each inmate to a nearby facility would cost the county $45 a day, a move that would likely deal a fatal blow to the county's coffers.

"We couldn't handle that burden financially," Phillips noted.

Region 8 News will continue to track how Jackson County plans to avoid closing its jail.

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