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Benton County Jail dealing with overcrowding

by Tracy Neal | December 1, 2021 at 2:48 p.m.

BENTONVILLE -- The Benton County Jail set a record with 751 inmates last month, dozens more than the jail's 669-bed capacity.

Sheriff Shawn Holloway informed the justices of the peace of the record at the Nov. 18 Benton County Quorum Court meeting.

"It's something we know is going to be an issue," Holloway said.

The jail ran out of temporary beds and had to order more, he said.

Holloway said 110 state prisoners were being held in the jail awaiting transportation to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith told justices of the peace at the meeting the circuit judges are aware of the issue at the jail.

"The system is flooding, and it's not going to slow down," Smith said.

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said he's spoken with Holloway about the issue and has offered to make release recommendations on a case-by-case basis to alleviate the situation. The main problem is the backlog of inmates awaiting transportation to the Department of Corrections, Smith said.

Twenty inmates were transferred on Nov. 18 to the state Department of Corrections. He expected more to be transferred on Nov. 19, Smith said.

Lt. Shannon Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the Benton County Sheriff's Office, said 20 inmates were transferred on Nov. 19. The inmate population as of Nov. 19 was 718, she said.

Jenkins said some inmates have been sleeping in what jail staff calls boats, which are on the floor. A mattress fits inside the boat and the boat is transferred from cell to cell, she said.

Jail officials are working to provide Benton County Circuit Judges Robin Green and Brad Karren with detainee files in hopes they will choose 20 detainees that could be released, she said.

Jenkins said the jail's capacity is 669 beds. However, it doesn't mean the jail can hold 669 people. Detainees must be segregated by different categories, including separate spaces for women and men, misdemeanor and felony offenders, sex offenders and other categories, she said.

The justices of the peace granted permission in September for County Judge Barry Moehring to seek qualifications from firms for conceptual designs for a possible expansion of the Benton County Jail.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee presented a proposal in September to the county American Rescue Plan Committee on jail expansion that would use money from the rescue plan.

The federal plan provides $350 billion for eligible state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, according to the county. Benton County will receive a combined $54 million over the next two years.

Moehring previously said money from the plan could be used for covid mitigation and prevention.

An eligible use is "support for prevention, mitigation or other services in congregate living facilities (incarceration settings, homeless shelters, etc.)," according to information from an Aug. 16 county meeting that dealt with public health and economic recovery.

Holloway previously said he envisions having pocket areas within the jail to hold virus-positive individuals until they are not contagious.

The jail eventually will have to be expanded, Smith said.

"We are dealing with roughly the same jail capacity we have had for more than two decades at a time when Benton County has experienced exponential growth," he said. "Growth means everything increases, even crime."

He said it is important to expand the jail.

"Drug court, mental health treatment and other diversionary programs are important components of our approach to crime reduction and rehabilitation," Smith said. "However, the jail remains our most important tool to keep our community safe, and I am encouraged that our Quorum Court recognizes the need for expansion."

The inmate population in the Washington County Jail was 720 on Friday, Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said.

Cantrell said the population was 699 in October with 93 detainees sleeping on the floor. The jail population has been as high as 723 this month with 123 detainees sleeping on the floor.

Cantrell said the design capacity of the jail is 710 beds with an operating capacity of 80% of that.

Print Headline: Benton County jail dealing with overcrowding

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