Tuesday, July 29, 2014

TOP STORY >> Sherwood backs jail plan

Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to approve a new five-year, interlocal agreement that will support the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility. The city will pay $133,000 for the jail next year.

The agreement offered to Sherwood, Jacksonville, North Little Rock, Little Rock and Maumelle proposes a 5 percent increase in the amount assessed to each city in the first year and annual increases tied to the consumer price index.

Mayor Virginia Hillman told aldermen before the vote, “This is the lowest our price is going to be. We only stand to have an increase in it if we continue to wait.” She said City Attorney Steve Cobb believed signing the agreement would lock in that price for the city.

Last week, the Pulaski County Quorum Court approved unanimously a new per diem fee schedule that will kick in for any of the five cities that don’t ratify a new agreement like Sherwood did. The per diem is a more expensive option, with the cities charged $248 for the first day a prisoner is booked into the county jail and $45 a day after that.

Alderman Ken Keplinger asked, before the council voted, what it would take to reopen Sherwood’s jail.

Police Chief Jim Bedwell said that would require the city to expand its facilities at a price tag of at least $1 million.

He said Sherwood has a 24-hour holding facility now that can house up to 10 inmates. The department could open up a few more cells if needed, the chief noted.

At one time, the city had a 14-day holding facility that “worked great,” Bedwell continued.

So, he asked the state for a list of what would be needed to reinstate that.

The chief explained, “There is no way, with our facility, we can go back to the 14-day without hiring more people and doing a major add-on. We’d have to have visitation. We’d have to have a dietician, an exercise room with daylight. The list just goes on and on and on. There is no way that we can afford to do that.”

The mayor pointed out that Sherwood’s annual $133,000 contribution to help the county jail wouldn’t even pay the salaries of three people to staff a city jail.

Alderman Marina Brooks chimed in with, “Sounds like it’s a bargain.”

But Keplinger, earlier in the discussion, said, “My frustration with the whole deal is, if we take and we send an inmate down there, they’re turning these inmates around, turning them away, releasing them. So, we’re not really getting the value. And I understand that they have to be supported, but it just irritates me, things like that.”

The city attorney said he asked, during the negotiations, whether that issue — caused by overcrowding — could be addressed by speaking with the Department of Corrections about making room in state prisons.

One police chief who was in that meeting told Cobb that the state was already working to release more nonviolent offenders.

Cobb told the council that the police chief said he had received more than 300 parole notifications recently compared to the 15 he typically sees.

The attorney added, “It’s a statewide problem…Yes, it’s frustrating, for the court, too, because they don’t have the teeth.”

The mayor voiced another concern before the vote.

Hillman said, “If we publicize that we’re not going to have an agreement with the county, and (criminals) know we’re not going to have anywhere to take them, I promise you the criminal activity will certainly (go up).”

Bedwell agreed. He said he is already seeing an increase in crime since overcrowding has prompted the county jail to release nonviolent offenders sooner and more frequently.

But, he added, the county jail does keep violent offenders. The chief said he can also work with the judge and sheriff to make sure a repeat offender who needs locked up stays that way.

Minor criminals, like shoplifters, are quickly released though. Sherwood can’t do anything about that, Bedwell said.

Alderman Mary Jo Heye asked the council and mayor to clarify which cities were for and which cities were against the agreement.

Those on the council confirmed that Jacksonville and Little Rock are opposed to the agreement, while Maumelle and North Little Rock seem to be on board.

But, the mayor added, Sherwood signing the agreement is an independent action. It would not affect any other cities and other cities signing would not affect Sherwood’s deal.

Pulaski County is required by law to house prisoners from municipalities within its borders, and the five cities agreed in 2004 to support the $26-million-a-year jail to the collective tune of about $3 million a year.

The state and federal government pay about $2 million a year for the inmates they send to the county’s facility.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher objects to Jacksonville’s share in the proposed agreement, which would be $68,000 more a year than Sherwood pays.

He has pointed out that Sherwood has a bigger population and had 50 percent more inmates in the county jail last year than Jacksonville did.

But the pier-diem plan approved by the quorum court could increase that city’s financial liability from $201,000 a year, under the proposed interlocal agreement, to nearly $500,000.

Fletcher told The Leader previously that he wouldn’t bring the interlocal agreement to the Jacksonville City Council until he has a proposal he can support.

He has said the biggest problem is the high number of state prisoners in the county jail and that the state pays only $24 a day per inmate, while the cost of housing an inmate is $44.

Fletcher said previously that he hopes the General Assembly will agree to pay its fair share when it convenes in January, but Villines has said jail and prison overcrowding is perceived elsewhere as a central Arkansas problem.

Legislators from other areas of the state are unlikely to be eager to pay more, the judge told The Leader previously.
Pulaski County is required by law to house prisoners from municipalities within its borders, and the five cities agreed in 2004 to support the $26-million-a-year jail to the collective tune of about $3 million a year. The state and federal government pay about $2 million a year for the inmates they have in the county lockup.

During a three-day special session recently, the General Assembly appropriated about $6.2 million to open another 600 prison beds around the state. Pulaski County’s work-release center, also known as the Wrightsville Satellite Center, just reopened and will hold 250 inmates.

Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Lt. Carl Minden told The Leader previously that the county would benefit by half that number.

The Pulaski County Detention Center, which twice this year stopped taking any but the most violent inmates, is open now and was down to a count of 1,157 Friday morning, he said last week. The center’s capacity, which it sometimes exceeds, is 1,210.

In other business:

• The council voted unanimously to appropriate $33,000 of the $39,000 in matching funds required to receive a $78,000 grant from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program that will complete the $164,000 Roundtop filling station restoration project.

The remaining $6,000 of the match will be covered by private donations that were collected for the project, according to the mayor.

The $78,0000 grant is funding phase two of construction — renovating the interior of the 360-square-foot building off Hwy. 161.

Phase one — stabilizing the old gas station at Trammel and Roundtop roads, replacing the roof and some work on the slab as well as the plumbing — was paid for with the first $50,000 matching grant the city received from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.

Sherwood’s match of $25,000 for the first grant came from private donations, a $12,500 chamber of commerce contribution and city funds.

Heye was concerned about how much more money would be needed to use the historic landmark as a police substation, one requirement of the grants.

The mayor said this second grant would finish the building and the city has been encouraged to apply for more funding through the state program next year.

Harmon said that approving this second grant would fulfill the substation requirement.

The city attorney pointed out, in response to another question, that compliance with the grants occurs before checks are written.

City Engineer Ellen Norvell said the program understand that turning the building into a substation would be a lengthy process.

And the police chief said doing so would be simple, as the building is small, an “no major” furnishings are needed other than one computer or laptop officers would use to file reports.

Darrell Brown, chairman of the Sherwood History and Heritage Committee, added that several local companies and Sinclair Oil have agreed to donate the heating and air conditioning system, the roof, signage and memorabilia.

He told Heye the city would not need to spend any more money on the project.

And the police chief was asked about preventing vandalism. Bedwell said there hadn’t been any problems so far, and patrols are deterring that.

He added, “The officers do have a good interest in that because it’s something unusual. It’s something that no one else has got. I think it’s going to be great for the community out there.”

Keplinger said the Round-top would be a draw for people coming to Sherwood and that the council needed to support it.