Friday, August 23, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Jail expansion makes sense

Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley has presented a convincing plan for a $3 million expansion of the county jail by taking in even more federal prisoners.

The two-year-old jail is already at full capacity by housing federal prisoners who are awaiting trial or preparing to be transferred to prison. It also has its fair share of county inmates.

The federal government reimburses the county for taking in its prisoners, which has helped the jail pay for itself. The sheriff estimates he could more than double his department’s annual budget by taking in 120 federal prisoners at $40 a day. He says it could net $1.74 million more a year; his annual budget now is $1.4 million. That could mean more deputies out on patrol and could even shore up the county’s general fund.

Staley, who has been on the job since January, says the jail was designed to be small to meet the county’s basic needs for jailing. It’s time to double its size and benefit from the federal government’s reimbursements.

But first, Staley needs the quorum court’s approval to issue the bond that will finance the expansion project. The fees from housing federal prisoners should repay the bill and more, according to the sheriff’s proposal.

The justices of the peace, though largely quiet on the plan, have heard about Staley’s plan in the court’s last two meetings. Staley believes they are receptive to the plan.

“I’m just looking for a way to pay for our inmates without putting it on the taxpayer’s back. The federal tax money is our tax money, and we need to bring it back home,” he told The Leader’s Joan McCoy.

As long as the federal government continues to house its inmates here in the near term, Staley’s plan seems well thought out and sustainable.