Leader Blues

Monday, June 01, 2009

TOP STORY >> More to stay behind bars

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

By mid-June, the Pulaski County Detention Center should expand to legally accommodate 980 prisoners.

The increase will be 100 more than the current cap, but not enough to legally hold the 1,015 prisoners locked up one morning this week, according to John Rehrauer, spokesman for Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay.

The Pulaski County Quorum Court authorized the increase Tuesday night. The jail’s capacity was reduced from 1,130 to 800 after the roof collapsed in 2005 above jail Pods A and B.

Capacity was increased in recent years to 880 with the help primarily from North Little Rock and Little Rock. Their police departments arrest the majority of the prisoners.

Of those 880 inmates, 100 considered nonviolent were housed in the old work-release center now called the satellite center.

When the pods were repaired and repainted early this year, those inmates and their jailers were transferred to those pods without increasing jail capacity. Renovations cost about $600,000.

But the sheriff can’t add 250 inmates to fill the satellite center unless the county can pay for the additional guards, medical costs, food and utilities for them.

The sheriff’s office has been training 27 new jailers with the intention of reopening 100 beds in the work- release center once they complete the seven-week course, according to a spokesman.

That will increase the jail’s capacity to 980 by the middle of June.

The quorum court had appropriated $1.3 million to train and pay the extra jailers required to operate the new pods and also 100 beds of the work-release center.

The jail pods are within the fenced secure area of the detention center, while the satellite center is not.

Holladay said that once the satellite center is completely reopened, the moves would increase jail capacity by 250 beds without a bond-issue or tax increase.

Holladay said he hoped to open the remaining 150 beds of the work-release center as funds become available.

When those beds become available, jail capacity will return to its 2005 capacity of 1,130.

“It doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Rehrauer said.

Any additional jail beds beyond that would require new construction and a new source of revenue, perhaps a tax increase, Rehrauer said.

To operate all 250 beds in the satellite center would cost the county $2.7 million a year in additional deputies, food, medical costs and utilities.

Most studies, including an extensive study conducted by former UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway, say the county needs between 1,500 and 1,600 beds.

Pulaski County residents turned down several tax increases sought in recent years to build new capacity for the detention center.