Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Inmates could still build jail

Leader senior staff writer

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman and JP Larry Odom have joined Sheriff Jim Roberson in saying the new county jail can be built despite the loss of the Act 309 state trustee program.

Modeled on the jail and construction program designed by Dallas County Sheriff Donny Ford, officials, including those three had told residents that state or county inmates could provide most of the labor for building a new 140-bed jail, and based in part on that assurance, in May voters narrowly approved a 12-month, countywide penny sales tax to build the jail that all agree is needed.

But in the wake of the discovery that one poorly supervised Act 309 inmate managed to have sex with two female inmates at the jail and that some others had improperly worked on some cars — including one belonging to the sheriff’s daughter — Roberson and the county voluntarily gave up its program, according to Roberson.

In October, Lonoke County businesses began collecting the income tax and by December the county treasury should receive the first of 12 installments from the state, which could total $6 million.

“Any help you get should reduce overall cost of it,” Troutman said Tuesday. He said county jail prisoners could do the grunt labor, but that the county would have to pay masons, plumbers, electricians and HVAC contractors.

‘I don’t know that that type of labor is available (in the jail or prison),” Troutman said.

“We going to use (inmates) all we can. “

He didn’t know the total cost of the proposed jail, saying, “I don’t know if anyone can tell you.”

He said the $6 million tax revenue estimate was based on the economy in the county remaining viable.

As for the size of the jail that can be built, he said it would depend not only the amount of money raised, but also on the jail’s configuration.

With a lot of high security single-bed cells, the population would be less than if the jail were built with a large dormitory-style area.

“If we can use inmates, I have no problem with it; if we can’t, I’ll go some other route,” he said.

“I don’t foresee it bothering us at all,” said Odom, who ramrodded through the motion that put the tax on the ballot.

He has visited with Ford several times about the design of the jail and also the use of prison labor.

“We have 50 to 80 inmates at all times,” he said. “We’ve plenty of people in jail to do what we want.”

Odom, who is the longest serving justice on the court, is head of the building committee and currently he’s trying to secure the land needed to build the new jail adjacent to the old one, he said.

It was abuse of the Act 309 inmates at the city’s jail that eventually led to a far-flung investigation of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell, who is in prison pending appeal of his 40-year sentence for several charges including conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and being the kingpin of a continuing criminal enterprise.

Prosecutor Lona McCastlain said no further investigation is under way of Roberson, who self-reported the problems at the county jail and who took his 309 inmates back to the state prison.