NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Senate Bill 495 passed the Arkansas House today after an amendment was made, and it now heads to the Senate for a final vote before it goes to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
SB 495 could ease some of the stress on county jails that are at capacity and sponsors say it will make Arkansas safer.
One of the hottest topics in the bill is that it will add 3,000 jail beds in Arkansas. Washington County Sheriff Jay Cantrell said it’s good to see the state trying to address these issues, and the bill could be a good long-term solution.
The Washington County jail is holding around 150 to 160 state prisoners at any given time, according to Cantrell. So, the additional prison beds sound good. However, he’s concerned the 3,000 beds won’t be enough.
“The county jail backup right now is probably somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 in the county jails in Arkansas,” Cantrell said.
Out of 3,000 beds, he thinks the space could fill up quickly.
According to State Sen. Bart Hester, a co-sponsor of the bill, the beds will be funded with the state’s general revenue. Washington County JP Beth Coger is concerned about the amount of money the bill will require.
“It’s a big concern, and it’s unsustainable. I don’t know how they expect that they’re going to be able to sustain that,” Coger said.
Hester shared a different opinion.
“I do feel like we’re going to be able to keep up with the funding, and it’s going to continue to cost more. But, the people of Arkansas are going to see that our streets are safer and safer,” Hester said.
Coger wants alternative solutions like pretrial services, mental health court, a sobering center, and drug treatment that she said would be a fraction of the cost of a new jail.