BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Benton County is considering a multi-million dollar expansion of the jail and criminal justice complex.
The quorum court’s finance committee heard the preliminary plan for the expansion on Tuesday. It would be completed in three different steps with the first one starting in 2023. It’s expected to cost around $241 million.
Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said the area’s growing population makes an expansion a necessary step.
“Our jail was built and designed nearly 30 years ago for a different population than we have today, and will not accommodate the population that we have either now or in the future,” Moehring said. “It’s really just come down to that it’s a public safety issue.”
The quorum court is considering how the plan would be funded. A tax increase could be put on the November ballot to help fund the expansion. Justice of the Peace Brian Armas said if the question gets on the balllot, he wants to make sure the voters understand what they’re voting for.
“I think the goal, at least from my perspective, in my seat, is to put things before the voters that it’s very clear language that is very easy to understand what the implications are from a proposed tax to what that would mean for the county as far as a new jail and courthouse expansion,” Armas said.
However, not everyone is on board with expanding the jail. Sarah Moore with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said she would like to see more investment in programs like pretrial services.
“So instead of really tackling those complex problems that really would move us forward for generations, we’re unfortunately playing the same tried and true trick of just let’s incarcerate more people, because we’re mad at them, we’re frustrated with them, we don’t know what to do with them,” Moore said.
The plan is still in the preliminary phases and no final decisions have been made.