On Sept. 4th, the Quorum Court along with Judge Dale Freeman held a public meeting concerning the future of the jail, in attendance was the Arkansas Jail Standards Board. The board attended the meeting to explain to the public the reasoning behind the decision and to answer any questions the Quorum Court members may have.

Mr. Danny Hickman, coordinator of the criminal detention center review committee gave a brief speech to the jp’s and those in attendance explaining that the urgent safety concerns had been addressed by Sheriff Dotson and Jail Administrator Debbie Burleson and corrected in a timely manner. Next he address the non-compliance issues the jail is currently facing explaining to the public that this is not a facility that can just be remodeled. Hickman and other committee members explained that overcrowding along with less than acceptable square footage were a major concern, also the fact that the jail only has one shower for all the inmates and not adequately separating males and females due to the current design of the jail were other violations to be taken into account.

The current jail was built in 1964 and is designed to hold just over 40 inmates, according to Judge Dale Freeman. Hickman went on to answer several more questions from the public, most asking the same type of question concerning remodeling or adding on to the current facility which he replied to with the answer of it is not possible to salvage the current facility.

The conversation then turned towards the Quorum Court looking at the closed Black Rock School facility as a possible future home of the jail and sheriff’s office. In attendance to support this were the Black Rock Mayor and Black Rock Fire Chief. Judge Freeman stated he had a company coming in the next few weeks to give estimates on this in an effort to explore options.

Questions were raised about housing our inmates in the newly built Greene County facility, Sheriff Langston charges $50 per day for males and $55 per day for females. At the current population of the jail, it would cost the county between $1600 and $1800 per day plus the expense of transporting inmates to and from for court appearances according to Sheriff Dotson. This was discussed during the original meeting last Wednesday and both the County Judge and Sheriff Dotson agreed this would bankrupt the county in a matter of months.

The Judge and several Quorum Court members expressed numerous times that in order to address this, a county wide sales tax would be needed. The Judge also went on to say that he has contacted the USDA concerning possible financing and several other entities about possible grants to offset cost. Quorum Court members ask the standards committee if we were working on a future jail would we be able to keep the current jail operational until the completion, the board stated they would monitor the jail during this and as long as safety issues were met then it would be allowed to stay open.

Once the public was asked if they had any questions or comments, several came forward including Sheriff-Elect Jeff Yates who stated “we have a problem, we know it and we must fix it”, also former Sheriff Dan Ellison came forward and gave a lengthy speech claiming that several administrations including his and Sheriff Dotson’s have brought this matter before the Quorum Court expressing concern that the jail would be closed, in his words “Sheriff’s can not build jails, the public can not build jails, it is up to the Quorum Court to build the jail”. Former Sheriff Ellison went on for several minutes expressing his displeasure with the current and former JP’s over this manner, once finished speaking the crowd applauded him.

Quorum Court members along with the Judge stated that figures on future cost and estimates on taxes would be the next step in the long process. Several consulting organizations were going to be called upon to not only help with building design but assist with the proper way to fund this project.

The next regular meeting of the Lawrence County Quorum Court meeting is scheduled for Monday Sept. 8th 2014 at 7pm.

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