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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Sgt. Seth Partain with the Washington County Sheriff's Office holds the door Nov. 16, 2017, for West Fork High School students touring at the Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville. Sheriff Tim Helder said he shares concerns about overcrowding and will work with the justices, other elected officials and members of the community to examine ways to reduce the jail population.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder says justices of the peace looking at jail overcrowding need to see the complete picture before they act.

Helder said he shares concerns about overcrowding and will work with the justices of the peace, other elected officials and members of the community to examine ways to reduce the jail population. He said all aspects of the issue have to be considered, not just the total number of inmates.

Jail expansion

Sheriff Tim Helder last year proposed a $38 million, 600-bed expansion to the Washington County Detention Center to address problems with overcrowding at the jail. The Quorum Court has tabled action on the proposal while discussing alternatives to incarceration but has taken no action.

Source: Staff report

"I have to manage the jail population, and I also have to be aware of the health and safety of the inmates, the health and safety of our people working in the detention center and the safety of the people in the community," he said.

Sam Duncan, justice of the peace for District 7 in west Fayetteville, questioned during a recent discussion the choice to hold inmates for outside agencies, including Madison County and the federal government.

"I don't want to be in the business of operating a jail for other people," Duncan said.

He said again Thursday he wants to look at all options for keeping the inmate population under control as the Quorum Court works to find alternatives to a proposed $38 million jail expansion.

Helder said the justices of the peace need to understand agreements to hold prisoners for Madison County and the federal government in the county jail provide nearly $2 million in revenue.

The jail has a design capacity of 710 prisoners, but with classification and separation requirements, the jail is considered "full" with 670 to 680 inmates. Helder told the Quorum Court recently as many as 100 prisoners slept on the floor or were kept in the intake areas waiting for bed space.

Maj. Randall Denzer oversees the jail for the Sheriff's Office. Denzer said the overall budget for the operation is $15.1 million for 2019. A 0.25% sales tax dedicated to pay for jail operations and maintenance brings in about $10 million a year. The county's general fund has been tapped for more than $1 million to cover the jail budget in recent years.

The contracts with Madison County and the U.S. Marshal's Service have been significant sources of money. The contract with Madison County brought in $352,000 in 2016 and $579,000 in 2018, according to Treasurer Bobby Hill. Through May this year, that agreement has brought in $228,000.

Holding prisoners for the Marshal's Service brought in $1.1 million in 2016 and $1.3 million in 2018. So far this year, the agreement has provided $814,000, according to Hill.

Denzer said the working relationship with the federal government also provides "extra" benefits to the Sheriff's Office at times. He said the Sheriff's Office has received truckloads of canned food, mattresses and blankets, clothing and other supplies, and money for a prisoner transport van and truck. He said the inmates are all involved in the federal court system and have to be housed somewhere in the area.

"The U.S. marshals are the detention arm of the federal government," Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said. "If the FBI or any other federal agency makes an arrest, the Marshal's Service is responsible for housing those people."

Cantrell said Wednesday the jail was holding 70 federal prisoners and 26 Madison County prisoners. He said those numbers were near the daily average for both.

Cantrell said holding those prisoners helps the budget because both entities pay a daily fee of $62 per inmate. The county estimates the average daily cost for housing a prisoner is $62 per day.

In contrast, Cantrell said, the state pays the county $30 per day to hold inmates who have been sentenced to time in prison, but not yet accepted by the Department of Correction. Fayetteville pays a one-time booking fee of $62 per prisoner for inmates who haven't been convicted.

The county would have $2 million to $2.5 million less revenue if the Detention Center stopped accepting prisoners from Madison County and the federal government and filled the jail with prisoners from local agencies, Cantrell said.

Denzer said most of the jail costs are "fixed costs" including personnel, utilities, food and other supplies with personnel being about 80 percent of the budget. Because of the separation and classification requirements mandating women and men be kept apart, along with separating pre-trial and post-conviction prisoners, juveniles and adults, sex offenders and others, the Detention Center has to operate with essentially the same costs regardless of the number of prisoners.

"It doesn't matter if we got 800 or 500, our costs are the same," Denzer said.

Ann Harbison, justice of the peace for District 14 and chairwoman of the Finance and Budget Committee, said the justices have to weigh all of the aspects of the jail operation. Harbison said she favors looking at alternatives to incarceration, having lobbied for years for greater use of ankle monitors for nonviolent offenders so they can remain out of jail, and the use of drug courts and other diversion programs.

She said the jail and alternatives to incarceration are both needed.

"It's two separate issues, really," she said.

NW News on 06/23/2019

Print Headline: Sheriff says inmate contracts help jail budget

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