Monday, January 30, 2017

Questions Arise About Proposed Regional Jail

For some time has been asking questions about the proposed regional jail that has been under discussion by State Representative Jeff Wardlaw, county officials from Drew and Bradley County, and the Arkansas Governor's Office.  There have been a number of questions asked to which the answers have not been made clear.  The responses have not been consistent.

Recently, SRC asked Rep. Wardlaw to clarify the issues of concern.  The following are the "talking points" sent by Rep. Wardlaw, which he attributed to the Governor's Office:

"Representative Jeff Wardlaw announced that he has met with Governor Hutchinson, who has voiced support for a regional jail facility in concept.  The Governor has also met with Arkansas Board of Correction Chairman Benny Magness, Director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections Wendy Kelly, proprietors of LaSalle private prison business Billy McConnell and Pat Temple as well as other private prison industry leaders, and Governor's staff to determine the feasibility of a regional jail facility in Arkansas."

Rep. Wardlaw stated, "I have found there is some confusion and questions about the possibility of a regional jail in Southeast Arkansas, and I wanted to explain some of the requirements necessary before a decision is made and the facility is cleared to go forward."

"First the impacted county will be given guidance on how to form an equitable relationship as working partners with the private corporation to assure the state that it will be partnering with a stable company that has a proven track record in this field."

The news release went on to talk about consideration to include the number of state inmates to be in the facility, the duration of the state obligation, compliance with rehabilitation programming, risk factors, the exclusion of any class of inmate, accreditation and standards of the department of corrections.  It reported that once all terms are agreed to by the company and the state, and after the counties satisfy the requirements of the law, construction can begin.

The release did not address specifically the questions asked by SRC:
Who will own the jail, and who will run it?
Who will be liable for the inmates, and who will be liable for the cost of construction?
If a private company owns the jail, why is a multi-county jail commission needed?
Where will the jail be built?
What type of offenders will be housed there?

Bradley County and Drew County have adopted ordinances creating a jail commission.  Rep. Wardlaw told SRC that Cleveland and Lincoln counties have done the same thing.  He stated there are several unknowns at this time as to how the facility will function and what entity will be the legal owner.  In the past, information was stated indicating  the private company would be the sole liable entity.

Within the last week, public comments have been made that low level sex offenders might make up a portion of the state inmate population that are incarcerated in the jail.  It has been reported that the jail would employ 100 people.  Local county officials have told SRC that they just learned of the potential for the housing of sex offenders.

It has been stated that Bradley County is spending somewhere around $70,000.00 per year to house county prisoners and depending upon the number of beds the county contracts for or reserves, the cost could be near $150,000.00 per year.

As more information becomes available, it will be reported to the public.  Any final decision as to Bradley County's participation as a contract party or as part owner, is subject to a vote of the Bradley County Quorum Court's nine Justices of the Peace.

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