Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sheriff’s jail plan gets key backing

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County has a jail plan, or at least it will if the entire quorum court approves the proposal presented by Sheriff Doc Holladay on Tuesday morning and endorsed by the county’s ways and means committee.

Relatively modest compared to the proposed sales tax increase for the jail which voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2006, part if not all of this new plan can be paid for by county officials out of existing revenues and money they can borrow on authority of the quorum court.

Not only did the ways and means committee endorse the plan, but former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway, Jim Lynch of the Association of Little Rock Neighborhoods and Bob Birch of Twin Cities Bank took turns at the microphone to speak in favor of the proposal.

“You’re on the right track,” County Judge Buddy Villines called from the back of the room.

Hathaway, who chaired the committee that recommended steps for the county to take to deal with its jail problems and its overall financial problems, said Holladay’s plan would give the county the capacity his committee recommended and “was very affordable.”

“I worked the numbers,” said Hathaway, “and this is absolutely possible and positive.”

“This is not the gold-plated plan of 2006,” said Lynch, a community activist who worked against the millage increase two years ago. Calling it a reasonable approach, he warned nonet unknown future obstacle.

The county has a real jail plan and, according to Treasurer Deborah Buckner, some funds to work with, said Birch.

Quorum court member Allen Kerr said the county budget already reflects payments on $8 million worth of notes used to renovate a derelict old building into a modern office for the county prosecutor and that after the notes are paid off, the county could use that mortgage money to fund new buildings for the jail.

Kerr suggested starting soon on the first new building for 200 additional, non-violent inmates.

Holladay’s plan, if fully realized, would accommodate 1,530 inmates, an increase of 660 inmates over the current allowable capacity. As of Tuesday, the jail held 967 inmates, 87 more than it is designed for.

Repair and construction would cost an estimated $10.4 million to $12.4 million—which is so-called one-time money, while staffing and maintaining the additional beds would cost about $6.2 million a year once the new beds were fully occupied.
His four-step plan breaks down like this:

First use about $400,000 from the public-safety fund to repair, re-roof and reoccupy pods A and B of the old jail. Some sheriff’s office personnel and 160 prisoners could be moved into that building from the work-release center. Repair could include new boilers and new air conditioning units.

The first step would not add any beds to the current population.

Step two—Build a 200-bed warehouse-style facility within the fenced perimeter of the new jail to house the most serious no-violent felons. The detention center would then hold 1,080 prisoners. Construction costs $4 million, annual maintenance and operation $1.5 million.

Step three—Reopen the work center to house 250 misdemeanor inmates who could help offset their cost to the county by performing work for county and the cities. Jail capacity would then be 1,330. No construction cost, Annual maintenance and operation $3 million.

Step four—Build a 200-bed secure wing—bricks and mortar—to the new jail for violent felons. Implementation would bring inmate capacity to 1,530. This wing would cost $6 million to $8 million and cost about $1.6 million a year to operate.

“I would recommend that we move forward, step by step, to identify funding sources for implementation of this plan,” Holladay told the committee.