Greene County Taxpayers to Vote on Jail Expansion

AUGUST 23, 2006 -- POSTED AT 9:00 P.M. CDT

GREENE COUNTY, AR -- The Greene County Jail has had problems with overcrowding for sometime now. In the twelve years since the jail was built, the prison population keeps growing as available space becomes less and less.

The Quorum Court is asking for 2 ways to fund the addition: An expansion of the current sales tax that is in place, along with a half cent increase for operation and maintenance of the addition. Sheriff Langston says since he's been in office, they've been in a strong need for an expansion.

"We've added bed space. Every little nook and cranny, we've put someone in that nook and cranny. We're bursting at the seams right now," says Sheriff Langston.

The Quorum Court recently decided to propose a 10 million dollar jail expansion to taxpayers in the November election. The jail was originally built in 1994 to house 84 inmates. By using every space in the jail, they were able to raise the capacity to 110. But the current inmate total shows they are way over the limit. As of Wednesday, the jail is holding a total of 161 inmates; 131 males and 31 females. The expansion is asking for a facility capable of holding a total of 428 inmates, including a new juvenile facility, but from the current numbers, 428 almost sounds too large.

"We're not building for today. We're building for 10 and 15 years from now. That was the problem when they built the jail 10, 11 years ago. They didn't do a projection of the growth of Greene County," says Sheriff Langston.

Quorum Court members say they realize that there's never a good time to ask the taxpayers for more money, but they say it's now come to the point, they have no other choice.

"This building's not in bad shape, it's just not big enough. So, the time was just right and the need is greater now than it has been and unfortunately when you're community grows, so does your crime rate," says Jerry Cunningham, Justice of the Peace and Chairman of Jail Committee.

One way or another, Cunningham says the Quorum Court realizes that the county is going to have to accommodate the growing inmate numbers, whether inside or outside the county.

"As end result, if it doesn't pass, we're going to have to farm our prisoners out to different counties and it would be close to 1 million dollars a year I think to send 50 or 60 people out of Greene County. We still have to pay that expense," says Cunningham.

The Quorum Court will meet September 5th to finalize the building plans for the jail. The last phase of approval is up to the voters of Greene County.