Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

TOP STORY >> Pulaski jail remains mostly closed

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility has been closed 10 times more than it has been open this year because of overcrowded conditions.

Through March, the jail was closed to new inmates 1,999 hours out of a possible 2,160 hours because all the bed space was full, meaning the jail had openings for just 160.5 hours through the first three months of the year. Figures for April haven’t been released yet.

The jail is on a record pace for being closed. In 2005, the jail closed down 175 times for a total of 3,188 hours, and in 2003, when it had 245 more beds, it still closed 1,999 times for a total of 2,371 hours.

But at the current pace, the jail will be closed nearly 8,000 hours by the end of 2006. In fact, so far this year, the jail was open for intake of prisoners just one day in January, six days in February and five days in March.

It costs $21.2 million a year to run the jail, which has lost about 250 beds for lack of funds. The county is considering adding between $4.5 million and $34.1 million for more jail beds. Cities in Pulaski County this year have contributed about $1 million to keep addition 80 beds in use, but that money may not be available next year.

A countywide governmental task force has been meeting to look at ways to resolve the jail problems. The task force met in Little Rock in March, Jacksonville in April, and will meet tomorrow in Maumelle. The task force has also set a meeting May 24 in Sherwood.

The group is looking at ways to open more jail space, increase jail funding and better utilize jail space and funds.
A citizens’ group calling itself County Jail Reform Now is working with the county task force and believes the jail closings are one of the major reasons that the crime rate in Pulaski County has risen 300 percent since October 2005.

FBI crime statistics seem to bear out the group’s conviction. In 2004, the latest year for complete figures, the Little Rock metropolitan area — which includes Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Jacksonville and Maumelle — had crimes statistics above the national average in all major categories.

Also in that year, the jail, which had space for 1,125 prisoners, was closed down for prisoner intake 162 times for nearly 2,000 hours.

In 2004, the murder rate for the Little Rock metropolitan area was 15.4 per 100,000 people; nearly triple the national average of 5.5 per 100,000, and higher than New York and Los Angeles and nearly equal to Chicago.

The number of forcible rapes in 2004 was 58.4 per 100,000 area residents. The national average was 32.2. The Little Rock area figure was higher than that of New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Reported robberies in 2004 in the Little Rock area stood at 361.9 per 100,000, nearly three times higher than the national average, and more than New York’s rate of 300.9 per 100,000.

The local aggravated assault rate in 2004 was 881.2 per 100,000, compared to 291.1 nationally. The Little Rock metropolitan area’s assault rate was more than the rates in Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York or Los Angeles.

The burglary rate in 2004 was also more than double the national rate. Locally it was 1755.7 per 100,000 and nationally it stood at 729.9.

Statistically the local rate was more than New York’s and Los Angeles combined.

Larceny theft in 2004 stood locally at a rate of 5,655.2 per 100,000, double the national average, and vehicle thefts were at 498.3 per 100,000, up from the national average of 421.3