BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Leaders in Benton County continue to work on jail and juvenile detention expansion plans.
“Currently, the Benton County Jail is at capacity over capacity. That’s been an issue that we faced for the last several years,” Benton County Justice of the Peace Brian Armas said.
The county’s justices of the peace are working on a plan to expand a portion of the jail to create more beds, a kitchen and an expansion for a courthouse facility. Armas is in favor of the expansion.
“This would create about 260 to 320 new beds for misdemeanor offenders. Trustees in that kind of situation, which would also relieve space in the main portion of the jail,” Armas said.
This is not the first time the jail received an upgrade. It was expanded in 2016, adding room for 140 inmates for $1.5 million.
Armas says it’s already outgrown that.
“With the population increase also has come an increase in crime, both in misdemeanors and felons,” Armas said.
Executive director of the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition Sarah Moore says she is opposed to the expansion plans because it means more incarceration.
“Investing in additional beds does exactly the opposite of helping to uphold our constitution,” Moore said.
Moore says voters rejected the jail expansion at the ballot box in the last election when they voted down two sales tax increases that would have gone towards paying for the expansion and maintenance of the jail.
“What we want you to do is use our taxpayer dollars in an efficient and effective manner, using evidence-based practices to build things in our community that actually heal,” Moore said. “They help restore and they reduce recidivism.”
“There is no dedicated sales tax for the jail and sheriff’s department in Benton County. So Armas says they will have to get creative.
“Because of that, I think the voters are clear, saying, ‘Hey, find money and do what you have to with what we already have given you.’ And, I think that’s the responsibility that falls on the shoulders of every justice of the peace. And that’s what we’re trying to do,” Armas said.
The proposed jail expansion is expected to cost $21.2 million, but the finance committee still has to find funding to operate the space and eventually make its way to the quorum court for the final decision.