Wynne County, Ark., Considers New Jail
(06/08/2011)

WYNNE, Ark. — County officials in Wynne gave a tour of the 40-year-old county jail, which they say is in need of replacement.

According to Cross County Sheriff J.R. Smith, the jail is deteriorating and maintenance costs are rising. Smith said he's exploring options for a new jail, with an estimated 150 to 200 beds, and how much a project would cost taxpayers.

Cross County Quorum Court Member Lynn Blake, who is also on the building committee, said the preliminary estimated cost of the project would be around $6 million, which would include courtroom and office space. Officials are considering a bond issue, which would be voted on by county residents.

Smith said with the additional beds they could house other county, state and federal prisoners to offset the costs of building.

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Smith said he has discussed the project with several county leaders, including some construction companies. Currently the plan is to gather information on how much a new jail would cost to build and what its main purpose would be. Smith said he'd like a courtroom to be built in such a way that inmates would be brought before a judge without having to bring them in front of public. He also cited security concerns and said he'd like the jailer to monitor cells in a circular pattern.

The existing jail consists of a long hallway, where the cells need to be visually checked by officers. The jail also lacks space needed to separate and isolate more troublesome inmates.

Administrator of the Cross County Jail John Collier said the jail is licensed to house 86 inmates at one time. He said they've housed as many as 96 at one time and recently, as little as 50.

Collier said the cost of maintenance has risen. Many inmates destroy or heavily damage jail property and one inmate tried to tear up the plumbing.

The actual plan is to build a 135- to 150-bed facility that can house more state inmates or possibly federal inmates, said Collier. It is probably cheaper to build a new jail than to bring the existing one up to standards, he added.

Collier said one section of the jail has six pods, which can house eight inmates each. The older section, built in the 1960s, can hold 32 inmates.

Windows and locks are often broken, many of the electrical doors are not working and had to be replaced with manual locks.

Collier said one problem the jail faces is that many other jail systems are overcrowded. He noted the overcrowding situation in central Arkansas with inmates waiting in jails before they can get into the DOC prisons.

Cross County Judge Jack Caubble said he'd demolish the jail and rebuild it if the project was up to him. He said it's obvious the county needs a new jail.

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