Jail expansion talks begin in SWAR county

Texarkana

TEXARKANA, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – Officials at the Miller County Correctional Facility say overcrowding is a big issue and more space is needed. 

Law enforcement authorities are now having discussions with county officials to decide how many more beds to add at the jail. “We on the quorum court feel that this is essential to preserve the safety of the citizens of Miller county. To keep the criminals off the street, we’re going to have to grow the jail,” said Precinct 6 Justice of the Peace Ernest Pender.

Officials said the facility has been beyond its capacity for a couple of years now, and the problem is getting worse. “This project here was a state-of-the-art facility 20 years ago, and it’s time for, you know, a revisit and expansion because the population continues to grow,” said Miller County Chief Deputy Mark Lewis. He added that technology upgrades at the current facility are also needed. 

Lewis said the Miller County Correctional Facility was built with the capacity to house 285 inmates. He said they’re currently housing about 320 inmates per day.

Expansion discussions were held at the Miller County Quorum Court meeting on Tuesday night. The sheriff’s office, with the help of an architectural firm, presented a master plan to build an addition at the cost of $6.5 to $7 million. Lewis said that would provide about 100 extra beds, but it would only be a short term solution. “We’re currently in need of 100 additional beds – today. Part of the presentation … was to bring some very basic cost estimates for the addition of at least 100 beds and to make some infrastructure improvements.”

Pender said town hall meetings will likely be scheduled to get public feedback on a temporary sales tax to fund the expansion. He said a sunset clause accompanied the previous ballot measure to build the current facility. “We’ll now have to go back to the voters and ask for a quarter percent tax to fund building the new jail, which we feel like we’ve got credibility in the fact that we did retire the tax well ahead of the time we were supposed to, so that’s the proposal we’re going to go back to the public with, to see if they’ll support us building a new jail,” Pender said.

Lewis said if nothing is done, his department would have to contract with other counties to house their inmates. “That’s obviously a very expensive long-term way to conduct business, which is why there are several construction projects ongoing in Arkansas at this time,” Lewis said.

“If we don’t show some action on it, the jail standards committee could come in and force us to lower our population, and we see what’s happening all over the nation where they’re turning people out on the streets that need to be in jail. Crime’s on the upsweep, and we don’t want to see that happen in Miller County,” Pender said.

 A proposition could be placed on the ballot next May. 

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