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— An addition to the Benton County Jail will provide space for 144 prisoners and lessen overcrowding issues. The project involves construction of a minimum security barracks.

The addition was approved by the Quorum Court’s Long Range Planning Committee on Nov. 12. The project was scheduled for consideration yesterday at Committee of 13 and Finance Committee meetings.

The barracks could not come at a better time for the jail, which has been overcrowded for two years, said Sheriff Keith Ferguson.

The jail has housed more than 500 prisoners for months.

“We have got 484 beds, not 502 or 520. We have got 484 beds, and we are housing 520 to 525 prisoners,” Ferguson said.

The cost of the new building -including furnishings, equipment, cameras and other systems comes - is $2.2 million. County officials have set aside $1,020,000 for building the facility, said Justice of the Peace Bobby Hubbard.

Hubbard proposed that the Finance Committee allow Ferguson to use the money set aside for the barracks and take out a loan for the remaining costs. The loan could be repaid from jail fees, Hubbard said.

The cost of staffing the new facility worried justices of the peace. Ferguson believes he will need an additional nine or 10 jail deputies.At a rate of $40,00 to $42,000 per deputy per year, the county is looking at shouldering an additional $400,000 to $450,000 for manpower.

Justice of the Peace Kurt Moore wanted to see firmer numbers on staffing costs.

“The court’s reservations on this have always been about the personnel costs. I would like to get some idea what the annual costs are going to be,” Moore said. “Whether or not we do this is going to depend on that, rather than the construction costs.”

The county will begin in January charging cities $40 per day to house inmates held in the jail.

That amount is up from $32.50 per day currently charged and more accurately reflects the costs incurred by the county to house those prisoners, Hubbard said.

Ferguson assured the long range planning committee members of one thing: “If you give me the approval to build this thing, we are not going to wait around.”

With a green light on the project by January, Ferguson believes he can have the new facility opened by fall 2010.

News, Pages 8 on 11/25/2009

Print Headline: Committee OKs addition to jail

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