Saturday, January 12, 2008

TOP STORY >> Pulaski sheriff is pleading for more jail cells

Leader senior staff writer

Pulaski County needs to double its jail capacity, but that can’t happen without residents footing the bill, directly or indirectly, Sheriff Doc Holladay said Thursday.

Holladay and County Treasurer Debra Buckner had hoped to solve at least part of the problem by putting a new roof on the old, abandoned part of the jail for about $1 million and asked residents to chip in, but a study released this week by Garver Engineers placed the cost of rehabbing that facility at $5.7 million.

“I’m not inclined to spend $5.7 million to repair a 30-year-old facility,” he added.

Donations generated about $19,744, which the sheriff said would now be devoted to an eventual new jail.
It would cost $1 million or more to tear down the unused jail, according to the Garver report, but Holladay said not only does the old jail serve as a hallway between the sheriff’s office and the new jail, but also that if he had access to the $1 million, he’d rather put it toward a new jail addition.

In Holladay’s first year as sheriff, the average daily jail population was 945, 65 more inmates than the existing jail is built to house, and 49 more inmates daily than the preceding year. Despite the overcrowding, the jail is still accredited with the state Jail Standards Board.

Holladay said a jail addition to increase capacity from 880 inmates to 1,700 or more would either require the passage of a new bond issue by voters or else require Pulaski County and the cities within it to greatly increase the amounts of money they contribute to the jail.

In the wake of the failed dedicated jail tax spurned decisively by voters in September 2006, Holladay said he doesn’t expect another attempt anytime soon.

“We will do more with less into 2008,” Holladay said. “We will work with what we have. I can tell you what the problems are, whether or not we can fix them.

“The staff will lock up violent felons and as many others as possible,” he said. “I’m committed to fill this jail and over fill it as long as we can control the inmates.”

“But even overfilled, this jail is not sufficient, we have to look forward to the immediate future and begin to plan for an expansion of the facilities.”

The 250-bed work center currently holds 160 inmates, he said, but the jail budget doesn’t include money to hire staff, buy food and provide medical attention for the other 90. Now with the Garver study in hand, Holladay said, “I’ll be in discussion with (County Judge Buddy) Villines and (Comptroller Mike) Hutchens.”

Holladay said the county is understaffed with jailers, who are overworked and overstressed and that he was pleased that they received raises this year and one-time bonuses. He said the attrition rate had been about 35 percent and he hoped the additional money would slow that.

Currently the county is 20 jailers short, but a new class will soon graduate, providing some relief.