FAYETTEVILLE -- Overcrowding at the Washington County Detention Center is being blamed for what officials say is an increasing number of fights and injuries involving detainees and jail staff.
Maj. Randall Denzer, Detention Center supervisor, told the Quorum Court's Jail/Law Enforcement/Courts Committee on Monday the detainee population at the Detention Center was 775, with 144 detainees sleeping on the floor due to lack of beds. Denzer said the jail's design capacity is 710 beds and the operating capacity is around 600 due to the need to separate different categories of detainees.
Denzer said there was a fight at the jail Friday night in which three deputies were injured.
"We're overcrowded, and we're having more altercations," Denzer said. "More people are getting hurt. More officers are getting hurt. With this count we have they're stacked up everywhere."
Denzer said the fight Friday night began during a med call, when jail staff were distributing medicines to the detainees. One detainee started verbally abusing the medical staff and shouting profanities at them, Denzer said, and refused to step away when ordered to do so. Denzer said the detainee resisted when a jailer tried to move him away from the med cart and hit the jailer. Two other jailers came to help control the situation, and during the fight that ensued all three deputies were injured. Denzer said the detainee was not injured.
Denzer said fights are not uncommon at the Detention Center. He said there are probably three or four altercations a week but most are minor.
Willie Leming, justice of the peace for District 13 in southwestern Washington County, asked about progress on design and engineering work on a possible jail expansion. The Quorum Court in August approved spending up to $250,000 on design work for an expansion.
Sheriff Tim Helder said in August the proposal being studied would add 230 beds to the Detention Center in two medium security buildings. The jail intake area would be enlarged and some space added for jail administration, the courtroom at the jail and for storage.
Denzer said Monday the work had not progressed far enough to provide any cost estimates on the project.
Also Monday, the justices of the peace approved spending $315,000 in American Rescue Plan funds for 2022 for the Returning Home program to divert probation violators away from the jail. Nick Robbins, director of Returning Home, said the $315,000 would expand the program from 10 beds to 16. Robbins said the cost to the county would drop from $60 per bed per day to $54 per bed per day.
Robbins said there have been 57 individuals referred to the program and 28 placed in the program in the first year. He said the program has had a 28% graduation rate since it was approved by the county last year. He said a graduation event in two weeks should raise the graduation rate for the year to about 40%.