FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Washington County Quorum Court voted to approve two ordinances Thursday to use American Rescue Plan funds toward improving the jail.
The two ordinances combined will allocate around $18 million for the jail. The public comment at the meeting was in opposition to using the ARPA funds for the jail expansion. Ultimately, justices of the peace voted 11-4 on both jail ordinances.
In November, voters rejected a sales tax increase to fund an expansion. Beth Coger with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition said she hoped the vote would mean the county would put money toward things like pre-trial services.
“They voted it down soundly, it was a sound defeat for the jail expansion,” Coger said.
Justice of the Peace Bill Ussery said there needs to be room to meet the demands of a growing number of detainees.
“We’ve got to do something, we have all the people on the floor, we can’t separate them, we’re trying to decide who to let loose and who not to,” Ussery said.
Justice of the Peace Evelyn Rios Stafford brought up concerns about the legality of using American Rescue Plan funds for a jail expansion. She cited a U.S. treasury ruling that deemed correctional facility expansion as an ineligible use.
“It’s considered not an allowed use, it’s in the rules, this is a mess that we’re going to pass along to the next quorum court,” Rios Stafford said.
The project would add medical space, make a larger warehouse and add more rooms for detainees. The expansion is aimed at alleviating overcrowding and mitigating COVID-19 risks. The project is expected to take a couple of years to complete.