FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — In a move to address the Washington County Jail’s overbooking situation, Sheriff Tim Helder requested 16 new employees. But justices of the peace recommend only hiring eight with the rest of the money going toward other elements of the criminal justice system.
“This is about concession,” Helder said. “I think they’re fully aware that I’m gonna need those people eventually.”
In Tuesday’s meeting, the Finance and Budget Committee endorsed hiring half of the sheriff’s request. Helder said the employees would be in the jail’s booking and release area. Instead, the proposition would move funds toward the legal side of the county’s criminal justice area.
“This was their selling point: look, we’ll only give the sheriff half of the 16 requested—eight slots, and we’ll fund some prosecutor positions, public defender positions, and some others,” Helder said.
Matt Durrett is the county’s prosecuting attorney, and he said the amount of new cases each year is straining prosecutors and public defenders. Just five years ago, the prosecutors’ office filed a little more than 2,000 cases. Last year, it nearly doubled that, and only one position has been added.
None have been added to the public defenders’ office.
“I equated it to a slow-moving drain,” Durrett said. “You know, when the faucet’s still going full blast, the drain’s not working like it should.”
Durrett said he and other lawyers would greatly appreciate the quorum court voting to allocate money for new positions.
“When you can spread that load out among one, two other people…any little bit helps,” Durrett said. “That’s gonna ease the strain on both our deputies and public defenders.”
Butch Pond is a Washington County justice of the peace, and he said the main issue for JPs deciding to recommend only half the sheriff’s recommended 16 boils down to one thing: money.
“We’d be obliged to provide more if it was there,” Pond said.
Pond said more staff could help with overcrowding in inmate booking, which he expects to increase when Springdale’s jail closes. He doesn’t expect Helder to back off the request.
“I won’t be surprised if we don’t see the sheriff come in more in the middle of the year when things get more crowded and dangerous,” Pond said.
Helder said he’s fine with the quorum court addressing the legal side of the county’s issues, and he thinks JPs will ultimately act when intakes ramp up next year.
“I’m all about that,” Helder said. “We’re all in this criminal justice system