Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TOP STORY >>Group exploring jail tax options

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

Because Pulaski County voters turned down a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax last year for the jail, county officials are looking for ways to maximize the resources they have now, according to Allen Kerr, District 3 justice of the peace, who is chairing a public safety subcommittee.

The county needs the additional money to expand, rehabilitate and operate the county detention center, used by all cities and towns in the county, but until the public is ready, officials are implementing some of the 16 recommendations of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Task Force to managing funds and the jail more efficiently and with greater transparency, he said.

“You can’t take 15 years of wrong decisions and fix them overnight, you slowly have to chip away at it,” Kerr said.

The task force, chaired by former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway, suggested two comprehensive, expensive audits, one of the county’s finances, and the other of jobs and personnel.

Kerr’s subcommittee will make recommendations to the ways and means committee, which in turn can recommend ordinances to the entire quorum court.

At a subcommittee meeting Monday night, participants, including half-a-dozen quorum court members, suggested that the county sequester funds for public safety and make those financial and personnel audits a high priority, even though it will cost the county about $500,000.

Sheriff Doc Holladay said, “We want to close the North Little Rock jail facility, but would need to filter the prisoners into another facility. It’s a terrible excuse for a holding facility.”

He plans on repairing the roof at the regional detention center, which has needed repair for many years. The public safety subcommittee was expected to make recommendations to the ways and means committee Tuesday.

“The county is responsible for the courts, the jail, and public safety. We are working to do a better job at this,” Doug Reed, Justice of Peace District 1, said.

“We are brainstorming to get this problem into a positive motion,” Kerr said, “and to come up with solutions with the city and the county.” Committee members said the public should be able to review and understand the county’s annual reports.
Hathaway said, “The reports by the county treasurer, available to the public, need to be changed from the special language used by accountants and written at an eighth-grade reading level, simplified into understandable terms.”

An idea of using digital camera or video conferencing could save money on transporting detainees to court, and avoid exposing the public to potential danger, however a member at the meeting said some judges won’t allow video monitoring and want the prisoners brought before them in court.

Because some prevention, intervention and treatment programs work better than others, Hathaway recommended a national expert available from the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence out of Colorado, who can evaluate the programs. Then funds can be focused on the programs that do work.