NEWPORT, Ark. — Construction is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks on the new $8 million jail in Newport, Ark., located in Jackson County. The project has been delayed due to rain in the area; however, once it begins, it should last about 15 months.
The current 26-bed jail in Newport has had issues with overcrowding, understaffing and too-small jail cells. The Arkansas Criminal Detention Facilities Committee placed the jail on a six-month probationary period in August 2012, reported the Washington Times. That period ended when Jackson County voters approved two three-eighth percent sales taxes that will be used towards constructing a new jail and funding its operations. Without the tax approval, the jail wouldn’t have been built. As such, the jail would have been shut down and inmates would have been transported to other counties, potentially bankrupting Jackson County, Sheriff David Lucas told the Washington Times.
The new facility should solve some of these issues, as it will include 104 beds as well as room for expansion, County Judge Jeff Phillips told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Other Arkansas counties, however, are facing similar issues. Voters in Garland, Greene, Nevada, Prairie, Crawford and Yell counties all passed tax increases in recent years to pay for new jails.
The Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association, which is pushing for a special legislative session to address jail overcrowding issues, said county jails are holding 2,650 state prisoners awaiting prison beds, costing counties $18 million a year to house the state prisoners. The overcrowding issue even caused the Pulaski County Jail to close for a couple months earlier this spring, reported KATV. It’s become so bad that counties have had to let prisoners go because they can’t afford them.
Earlier this year, the Arkansas Board of Corrections announced that it would like the state to invest in a new 1,000-bed prison, which could cost up to $85 million to build. The state currently has 19 state prisons, which house more than 17,500 inmates. There have been oppositions to the prison plan. In fact, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen wrote a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe asking him to oppose it. A study is currently being conducted to see if the prison will be necessary.