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story.lead_photo.caption File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Deputy Chance Gregory watches inmates in May 2017 at the Benton County Jail in Bentonville. The Sheriff’s Office recently announced it would end in-person visits at the jail Sept. 1 in favor of video visits that will have a fee attached to them.

BENTONVILLE -- A few ideas about how to house inmates have been kicked around, but Benton County still faces the same problem -- how to deal with a growing jail population.

The Quorum Court, meeting as the Committee of the Whole last week, got the first look at a proposed pod for misdemeanor inmates. The pod would be a replication of H Pod, where female inmates are housed.

Pod data

A proposal calls for a misdemeanor pod at the Benton County Jail. The pod would replicate H Pod holding about 140 inmates and opening in 2011 at the jail on Southwest 14th Street in Bentonville. The cost was $1.5 million for the 15,698-square-foot structure expanded by 2,160 feet in 2016.

Source: Staff report

The Sheriff's Office routinely turns away people arrested in connection with misdemeanor charges because the jail is full, Chief Deputy Meyer Gilbert told the committee. The jail, on average, releases 387 people a month on citation who face misdemeanor charges instead of putting them in jail, he said.

More than 700 inmates were in the jail Tuesday night, Gilbert said. Capacity is 667, but that space declines when problem inmates have to be put in a cell by themselves. There are usually 20 to 30 inmates being held that way, Gilbert said.

Cities bringing in people on misdemeanor charges are billed $60 a day to hold them, Gilbert said. The jail also holds state prisoners and U.S. Marshal Service prisoners. The county is paid $30 a day for state inmates and $55 by the U.S. Marshals, Gilbert said.

Two busloads of inmates were picked up Tuesday and taken to state prisons, but that still left the county with 66 state prisoners, Gilbert said.

Justice of the Peace Jerry Snow, looking at any way to open jail space, asked Gilbert if inmates on work release could be housed in another building. People on work release go to their jobs during the day and report to jail at night to serve their sentences.

The Sheriff's Office had no interest in a "satellite" facility to hold work-release inmates, Gilbert said.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder indefinitely suspended the work release program earlier this month, saying the move will open 24 beds in the crowded facility.

The Washington County's Sheriff's Office has been releasing some misdemeanor detainees on citation and some felony detainees on their own recognizance without bond, but the jail has been overflowing for months.

With legal requirements to separate different classifications of detainees, the 710-bed facility is considered to be full when the number of detainees is 80% of the number of beds, or about 568. There were 720 inmates in the jail Friday.

Justice of the Peace Debra Hobbs asked at the meeting if a regional jail system -- a new concept in the state -- could be an option.

Two counties in southeast Arkansas, Drew and Bradley, agreed to waive competitive bidding and enter into a contract with LaSalle Corrections, a private company in Ruston, La., to build a 600-bed lockup. Separately, the state's Division of Correction agreed to a contract with the counties to hold up to 500 state prisoners at the new jail. The counties had been negotiating for years. The state's Legislative Council reviewed the plan in December.

The two counties will each have space to house local prisoners at the jail. As part of the contract, the company agreed to pay for the construction of the jail, estimated at $15 million to $18 million.

"Once you get one regional jail, you will probably get another," Mark Whitemore, chief legal counsel for the Association of Arkansas Counties, said Wednesday.

Concept plans for the Benton County pod show four dormitories and a control area in the center. The plans also show a set of isolation cells, two exercise areas, and room for things such as the laundry and storage.

The price tag is $3.26 million for the 19,844 square-foot pod, according to information presented at the meeting.

The price doesn't include the cost of things such as bunks and security equipment. At least 20 more employees would be needed at the new pod to meet state standards.

County maintenance staff, jail maintenance staff and inmate details will do the painting, wiring, lighting fixtures installation, concrete walks, parking, paving and exterior fencing, said Bryan Beeson, county facilities manager.

"It's about as bare-boned as it can be," Moehring said of the proposal.

NW News on 01/26/2020

Print Headline: Jail expansion another item for Quorum Court to tackle

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