Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

TOP STORY >> Jail costs could hit taxpayers for $34M

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Pulaski County Sheriff Randy John-son wants to reopen the county’s 250-bed work-release program, then phase in over a number of years new construction for an additional 808 jail beds at a cost of $34.2 million in construction and $15 million in annual operating costs, according to information he supplied to the county’s Public Safety Task Force.

At a task force meeting last week, members concluded that only a dedicated sales tax of one-eighth or one-quarter cents per dollar could pay for such an ambitious expansion.

As recently as a year ago, the detention center had room for 1,125 inmates, but budget cuts and deterioration of one jail pod have reduced the capacity to 880 inmates.

The task force meets again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Jeffrey Hawkins Meeting Room at Broadway and Mark-ham in Little Rock, and again at 7 p.m. May 24 at the Bill Harmon Recreation Center in Sherwood.

Several members of the Pulaski County Public Safety Task Force toured the detention center and many were dismayed by the sorry condition of the old jail, according to County Judge Buddy Villines.

“We’re dealing with 24 people, most of whom have not had the depth of information we’re providing them with. We’ve had some pretty good discussions and comments, and it’s probably going to get better,” said the judge.
“When you can actually see daylight through the roof, that’s a pretty big impact.”

Not only is the county jail in disrepair, but also the county couldn’t come up with its share—in excess of $21 million this year—forcing it to cut the jail population from 1,125 inmates down to 880 beds. That was even after local cities, including Jacksonville and Sherwood, chipped in a total of about $1 million to help.

The task force is trying to determine what’s needed and how to pay for it.

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office projects that the county needs a total of 1,523 beds within the fence at the regional detention center, according to Sheriff Randy Johnson, and another 250 beds in the work-release center.

Phased in over a period of years, construction costs for the 648 new beds is estimated at $34.2 million and annual operating costs—restoring enforcement cuts and operating the 250-bed work release center—of $16.8 million.

Currently, the detention center can hold 880 inmates.
The sheriff’s first priority is to reopen the existing 250-bed work release center at an annual operating cost of $2.57 million plus $1.5 million a year to restore the deputy positions cut to balance the budget.

New construction is divided into three phases.

Phase one is to build a 192-bed minimum-security barrack at cost of $4.5 million, plus an estimated $2.1 million a year to operate.

Phase two would add another 296 “hard” beds — that is beds in medium and maximum security, at a cost of $16.5 million and with an annual operating cost of $6.2 million.

Phase three would add 320 “hard” beds in medium security at a cost of $13.2 million. Operation costs would be $6.7 million.
The sheriff also would like to double the size of his juvenile detention facility, with construction costs of $3 million and additional annual operating costs of $925,000.