Washington County officials reach stalemate on jail expansion

Fox 24
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KFTA)– Washington County leaders have made a proposal in the ongoing debate to solve overcrowding at the Washington County jail.
 
The Quorum Courts Jails Committee has approved the motion to suspend the three items on the table Monday night indefinitely.
 
Those motions were a half percent sales tax for jail expansion, a quarter percent sales tax to fund maintenance and operation, and an ordinance to hold a special election.
 
At the meeting, there were a lot of conflicting views. One of the few things the community could agree on is that the current jail facility is a problem.
 
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office presented the most recent numbers on how many inmates are sleeping on the floor. Right now, it’s about 40 women and 40 men.
 
Various alternatives to expanding the jail were presented throughout the meeting, such as sending felons to treatment or rehabilitation programs.
 
Matthew Bender, a public defender, said creating more space would mean more inmates. Right now, the system doesn’t have the capacity to take on more people.
 
There’s not enough resources to handle more cases and if you have a bigger jail you’re going to have more cases and more people who are incarcerated, Bender said.
 
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder proposed the original plan.
 
He said, Our officers, our deputies, our law enforcement partners throughout Northwest Arkansas… 
Crimes can be committed, they can investigate and they can arrest. But, if they don’t have room in the jail, it really takes the teeth out of the crime fighters ability to really curb crime.
 
A motion by Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison was approved Monday night.
 
It’s to take the issue up to the budget committee to explore options to fund a study to solve the overcrowding problem.

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