Lawrence County Needs a New Jail

WALNUT RIDGE (KAIT) The Lawrence County Jail was built in the late sixties as part of the county courthouse in Walnut Ridge.

It's maximum capacity is 42 which it often exceeds.

The jail is showing it's age, both in wear and tear and design.

Sheriff Dan Ellison says something needs to be done. Either a remodel or a new jail.

Ellison, "Dangerous, the jail is too small to separate inmates by class as required by law."

A recent evaluation of the Lawrence county jail speaks volumes.

That same evaluation also says the jail is clean and well run but not adequate in size.

Sheriff Dan Ellison, "You can see how antiquated this is. No one would build a jail like this any more. You don't put twelve felonies in a cell together."

the jail, built in the 60's and expanded in 1991 is designed to hold 42 inmates. Sheriff Dan Ellison took us through the jail.

Females are housed in a two room cell off the main block but must shower in the same facility as the men. Note only two shower heads for 40 people.

The misdemeanors who wear orange are supposed to live apart from  the felonies who wear stripes.

Ellison, "We have to separate the best we can. According to the rules. "

Sheriff Ellison has opened discussion with the quorum court about a new facility. He said remodeling is a possibility but space at the courthouse is limited.

"We do need a new facility. (Is there room here in the parking lot to expand?). No, no we have no other places to expand."

Ellison says he has even thought of covering the exercise area in order to add more beds perhaps for regular inmates or the four 309's who are state inmates living at the jail.

Visiting day brings on it's own special problems.

There is one visitation window, 10 minutes per visit. And up to perhaps 40 or even more inmates.

Office space is also at a premium.

Juanita Bryant, Jail Administrator, "Space we do not have enough space to work like we need to. Keep our records stored, work around the prisoners like for fingerprinting them, booking them in. When you got all them in here and they are trying to do their paperwork done and were in here trying to do ours we're falling over each other. "

Ellison says a new jail could cost up to 4 or 5 million dollars to build and it could be financed in a variety of ways. What he fears though is with his county wide intake and lack of space.

"Don't force me to let people out in order to bring people in."

Sheriff Ellison says a big concern of his are the lack of facilities for juveniles.

They do have a separate room but they are not really set up to handle more than 1 or 2 at a time and he prefers them not to stay overnight.

Sheriff Ellison also says that even though the jail has beds for 42, in the past couple of weeks capacity has gone past 50 on occasion.