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Washco Jail: Violent Attacks Increase With Inmate Population

The Washington County Sheriff's Office believes overcrowding is responsible for an increase in violent attacks.
Washington County, AR - The Washington County Sheriff's Office believes overcrowding is responsible for an increase in violent attacks.

Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell says changes to Arkansas' parole system has created a backlog of state prisoners sitting in county jails.

"Tempers are short, fights are much more common, whenever our population is up," Cantrell says ."We're having 3 or 4 a week, fights a week."

The number of pre-trial inmates in the Washington County Detention Center hasn't changed much since last year, but the number of state prisoners being held there has nearly tripled.

"We've run out of places to put them," Cantrell says. "It's a juggling act."

He says violence, both on deputies and inmates in the jail, has jumped too. Seventeen violent acts were reported over the first six months of 2013, but that number spiked to 63 since July, when the jail started to see an uptick in population.

"I's not uncommon for inmates to receive injuries sufficient enough to have to go seek medical treatment," he says.

The sheriff's office releases nonviolent offenders to ease the overcrowding.

"If they can't bond out we'll get them out on ankle monitors or find a way to get those people out of jail so we've only got the worst of the worst," he says. "These people aren't in here for singing too loud in Sunday school, that's not why they're in jail, so some of these are bad people."

Benton County is also dealing with an inmate increase, and the detention center sees one to two fights a week,

"I think it's to be expected," says Deputy Keshia Guyll. "More inmates brings more violence, more everything."

Guyll says violence against deputies is relatively rare.

"We really try to be proactive in our safety, not only to the deputies, but to other inmates as well," she says. "We do a lot of little things like that I think really cuts down on fights, attacks and things like that."

She says some deputies spend their shifts inside the pods, watching and talking with the inmates.

"That helps cut down on a lot," she says. "When you don't have deputies in the pods, and they don't think you're watching, that's when bad things happen."

Washington County says stationing guards in cell blocks would require an increase in staff.

"We do the very best we can with the resources that are available," Cantrell says. "We have a finite amount of resources here. We have a finite amount of employees and jail space so we have to manage that and... keep the people locked up that need to be locked up."
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