Greene County Jail in Need of Expansion

October 3, 2006--Posted at 5:30 p.m. CDT

PARAGOULD, AR--Greene County is growing, but with it comes growing pains. Crime in the county is up over the last 12 years and the Greene County detention center is feeling it. That's why the county is asking voters to approve the refinancing of a current bond issue for a jail expansion, plus a quarter cent sales tax increase for operations and maintenance.

When it comes to the Greene County Detention Center looks can be deceiving.

"As nice as this looks from the outside, it's a whole other story on the inside," said Greene County Jail administrator Ron Harvey.

The complex was built 12 years ago, but is in desperate need of repair.

"They don't realize that I've got people who can open their doors quicker from the inside than we can from the outside," said Harvey.

In addition the jail is experiencing overcrowding.

"As the drug situation gets worse, the rape cases and different things have multiplied on us. As of today, I think we are 55 people over populated," said Greene County Judge Jesse Dollars.

"It's very thin. It is getting to the point where it is going to break somewhere," said Harvey.

With the overcrowding comes under staffing. Tuesday the jail had 155 inmates, but the employee budget for less than 100.

"Everything is a struggle. Everyday is a struggle. The number of people we having running this place is set up for 84 people," said Harvey.

Despite the evident need, the county is conducting town meetings all over the county between now and Election Day. They hope voters will approve the funds necessary to build a six million dollar expansion that would increase the capacity to more than 350 inmates. Officials are hoping voters will see the need, even if they don't feel it.

"A lot of families are affected by it somewhere down the line. Whether it is through drugs or something else, but the majority of the population says I don't use it," said Dollars.

Currently one percent of the population in Greene County is incarcerated either at the Greene County Detention Center or within the Arkansas Department of Corrections. With the growing population in Greene County and only the capacity for 110 beds, they could be forced to send inmates elsewhere if the issues are not passed. That alternative would cost the county considerably more.

At a cost of $55 a day with 50 inmates, the county would run up a tab over $800,000 a year. That's money from a budget they are already struggling to meet.

Greene County scheduled their first town meeting to discuss the jail issue with voters Tuesday night at seven in the Greene County Courthouse. The next meeting will be Thursday evening at seven in the Marmaduke High Auditorium.