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Books for inmates removed from Benton County Jail

by Ron Wood, Tracy Neal | January 26, 2021 at 7:10 a.m.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County jailers took almost all the reading material away from the inmates last fall because some of them were destroying the books, according to a Sheriff's Office official.

"As of this moment, there is no discussion about returning the book cart privilege," said Lt. Shannon Jenkins, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "That could change in the future, but is not being discussed at this moment."

Inmates still have access to the Bible and other printed religious material, Jenkins said.

The jail supplies inmates with domino cards, along with checker and chess boards, she said. The inmates may purchase playing cards from the commissary, she said.

The jail is considering installing televisions in the facility on Southwest 14th Street. The televisions will play only news and will be installed in each jail pod, not in the cells, Jenkins said.

"I don't know when it will happen," she said. "I don't know where they are in the process. I know it's an option to have in the pods."

Some inmates were using paper from the books to cover vents, which can lead to heating and air-conditioning problems in the jail, Jenkins said. Some inmates also stuffed the paper in doors or in toilets, causing their cells to flood, she said.

"It's a privilege," Jenkins said of inmates having books in the jail.

She said there's always been misuse of the books, but it became a bigger problem as the inmate population increased.

People dropped off books to specific inmates and the books would then go into the book cart for other inmates to read, Jenkins said. Libraries, churches and individuals also donated books to the jail. Donated books had to be paperback and black and white with no pictures; books also could not contain violent or sexual content, she said.

Cindy Murphy, communications director for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, said the department has no substantive role beyond that county jail chief executives are required to establish a written policy to provide library services, among other services.

Three inmates wrote letters to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette complaining they no longer have access to magazines and books. They requested their books be returned to them.

Maj. Randall Denzer with the Washington County Sheriff's Office said the jail has a book cart that is moved throughout the facility, except for the areas now used to quarantine detainees and the disciplinary cells. He said detainees can have up to three books at a time. The books are paperback and are donated by libraries, civic organizations and individuals, Denzer said.

Jay Cantrell, chief deputy of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, said the jail has 26 housing units and 14 have televisions. The televisions are used as a behavior management tool for the detainees, Cantrell said.

"If they misbehave, they can be moved and lose TV privileges," he said.

Jailers control the televisions, which get only over-the-air channels and are set on a different channel each day, Cantrell said.

Benton County officials still are discussing how many televisions should be purchased and which pods should get one, Jenkins said. The discussion also centers on the rules and procedures for the televisions, Jenkins said.

She didn't have a time frame for when the televisions might be installed.

There are 21 pods in the jail. The Sheriff's Office budget is $12.4 million and the jail has a separate budget of $11.4 million. The inmate population was 667 as of Jan. 14, Jenkins said.

More News

Jail changes

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office is considering adding televisions to pods inside the jail. Here are two moves the jail has made in the past decade that have been significant to inmates:

2012: The jail opens a commissary, from which inmates can buy snacks, underwear and other items.

2015: The jail begins serving inmates two hot meals a day in 2015 after previously serving three cold meals per day.

Source: Benton County Sheriff’s Office

Tracy M. Neal can be reached by email at [email protected] or Twitter @NWATracy.

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