Leader Blues

Saturday, September 09, 2006

TOP STORY>>Repeat offenders seen crowding jail

Leader staff writer

Two veteran law-enforcement authorities insist that without consequences of serving time behind bars, criminals will continue to break the law.

From 1,125 detainees who were housed at the Pulaski County Regional Detention facility several years ago, only 880 remain locked up because the county doesn’t have the money to keep all the beds open, according to John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, and Jacksonville Police Chief Robert Baker.

They’re hoping voters will approve a quarter-cent sales tax Tuesday to add beds to the jail and pay for other improvements.
About 97 percent of the time the jail is closed, which leads to frustration for countywide law-enforcement agencies.

Rehrauer recalled a recent rape in Maumelle, and police had to call the jail to see if there was space to detain the accused rapist.

Baker agrees with Rehrauer that it is frustrating for a “good group of police officers” to make solid arrests just to see the same people back out on the streets in no time flat.

“They just get a slap on the back of the hand,” he said.

Baker is the first to admit that statistics can be used to spin whatever issue goes before the public, but there were 86 more burglaries reported in 2005 than in 2004 for Jacksonville.

Between January and July, Jacksonville had 159 burglaries in 2004, while 258 were reported in 2005 during the same months.
In 2006, the number of burglaries for the same period was listed at 242, suggesting that criminals are out on the street.
If the measure passes, Jacksonville would receive a $125,000 windfall because an inter-local agreement between the city and county officials would end, resulting in huge savings for the county’s cities.

“That is our share…$125,000 a year,” Baker told The Leader. Plus, there is a handling fee when those arrested in Jacksonville are sent to the county jail.

Baker explained that the $125,000 would wind up in Jacksonville’s general funds. When asked if he wanted the windfall to benefit the police department, Baker said he’d rather see the city, as a whole, benefit from the savings.

Of the projected $18 million- plus tax revenue per year to be generated from the proposed sales/use tax hike, $750,000 will be used for prevention, intervention and treatment programs geared to get individuals to give up their drug/alcohol addictions and their criminal activities.

The remaining tax revenue generated by the proposed measure will also go to operating costs, new jail staff and repairs to the jail as well as reopening the work center facility.

Inmates can get their GED. Other programs focus on teaching detainees about life skills and providing an opportunity for de-tainees to ditch drugs.
“It’s mostly all done by volunteers right now,” Rehrauer said.

Rehrauer hopes more professionals will go to work at the jail if the public approves the sales tax increase. He believes this could help some detainees acquire skills to become productive citizens, but he knows other inmates will be unwilling to change no matter what.

“Quite honestly, sometimes they do it just to get out of their unit for awhile, but it’s valuable to try,” Rehrauer said.
In the past, Jacksonville operated an intermediate jail, which could house detainees up to 14 days. “We are currently a booking facility,” Baker told The Leader.

Individuals arrested in Jacksonville should be there only a few hours.
When asked why not revert to an intermediate jail facility, Baker replied, “It was very cost effective for us to go with the inter-local agreement.”

Baker also noted that to refurbish plumbing and electrical work, as well as to feed and provide medical treatment to de-tainees, is more expensive.

After listening to Baker’s reply, Rehrauer commented, “Nobody wants to get back in the jail business (locally).”
This week, hundreds of voters cast early ballots at Jacksonville City Hall, election officials said.

Most regular polling places will be open for the special election Tuesday.