WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — On May 19, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder issued a press release stating that he will ask the Quorum Court to push a jail expansion initiative out to voters.

“This will include Covid mitigation and a major jail expansion,” he said of the initiative. “The overcrowding issue has been at the forefront of our county’s needs for over eight years now, and the Springdale Police Department closing their jail in 2020 just exacerbated the situation.”

The release notes that relief came due to COVID-19, when the Sheriff’s office worked with the prosecuting attorney and the court, deciding to “release elderly and non-violent at-risk detainees.” He adds that a large percentage of those released are back in jail.

Sheriff Helder also explained measures like a pre-trial release program designed to help the situation.

“We hold virtually no misdemeanants and release well over 300 people a month who would otherwise be in our facility,” he added.

He also outlined a plan to use American Rescue Plan funding to expand medical treatment areas, the kitchen, intake and release areas and storage at the facility. He also notes that the construction of additional beds is necessary at the jail due to overcrowding and quarantine requirements.

“The Phase I Covid Mitigation Project was just to get people off the floor,” he stated. “The real issue is that we are going to have to have a major jail expansion!”

The release notes that the county received $10 million in unrestricted American Rescue Plan funding that was used to fund approximately half of the cost of Phase I.

I have a constitutional mandate to ensure the safety and welfare of those housed in our jail, not to mention the welfare of the deputies who never waiver in their commitment to serve in our detention center. I cannot fully meet this mandate without an expansion of our facility and our services! I say, let the people who recognize we have a great criminal justice system, which creates public safety, weigh in on this issue. We can have the greatest law enforcement in the nation, which I believe we do, but without somewhere to house the people they catch breaking the law, public safety will suffer greatly!

Sheriff Tim Helder

The release explains the details of the comprehensive plan brought before the Quorum Court in 2018, and notes that the current detainee population is “130% of operational capacity” and that employee retention and recruitment is “at crisis levels,” with one-third of detention positions unfilled.