Arkansas sheriff's seek solutions for jail overcrowding - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Arkansas sheriff's seek solutions for jail overcrowding

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Overcrowding and a lack of funding have created a dire situation in county jails and communities across the state of Arkansas.

The Arkansas Sheriff's Association is calling on lawmakers to help find a solution.

"We are not set up to be a prison. We don't have the facilities to be a prison, and we don't want to be a prison," said Sheriff James Singleton, Hempstead County Sheriff's Department.

Singleton says more than half of the population in their county jail is waiting to go to state prison or a parole hearing.

He says the increased number of inmates has become a big financial burden.

"The state allows $28 a day and that don't pay for toilet paper," explained Singleton.

A legislative audit's inmate cost report shows the actual pay per day inmate expense for counties is more than $45.

The Arkansas Sheriff's Association is asking lawmakers to consider capping the number of state inmates in county jails and approve funding to send some prisoners to privately run prisons.

Singleton says one inmate who's been waiting to be transferred to a state prison since January recently cost them $8,000, after damaging a county jail cell.

"Some of those have been here a long time and they are getting frustrated. I think one is here that is eligible for parole, and he's never spent a day in the penitentiary," said Singleton.

Arkansas implemented stricter parole and probation policies last year, leading to a sharp increase in the prison population.

According to the Sheriffs' Association, about 2,700 state inmates were being held in county jails.

Sheriff's want legislators to cap that number at 1,600.

"We can't just turn them lose. We've got to take care of them. We've got to find the money somewhere. I think the state should be responsible for kicking in the biggest portion, especially the ones that have already been sentenced," said Singleton.

Miller County Sheriff Ron Stovall says there is an excess of about 100 to 150 state inmates in the county jail.

He says his office's jail budget has increased 35 percent in housing costs.

"it's simple arithmetic. It cost the counties alot of money. It's my understanding that it is costing the counties across arkansas around $18 million a year to house the state inmates," said Stovall.

"I consider this a safety issue, so it will be a top priority as far as I'm concerned," said State Senator Jimmy Hickey, Texarkana (R).

Hickey says Governor Mike Beebe has been considering several options to the problem.

"He's actually proposed that we use some surplus money out of a particular fund, and if we do that it would allow us to take some of the prisoners out of the county jails and put them into the prison population," said Hickey.

He believes something needs to be done, but the solution may not be so simple.

"We are eventually going to have to build a new prison, or try to look outside the box and determine if we are going to outsource some of this population, or some other type of creative thought process," said Hickey.

There are about 19 state prisons across Arkansas that house more than 17,500 inmates.

The Pulaski County Jail in Little Rock recently reopened to all offenders.

Sheriff Doc Holladay closed the jail to nonviolent, low-level offenders on April 29th because the facility was over capacity.


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