Logan County Judge Gus Young knew the day would come, he just didn’t know when.
The day came when the state’s Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee informed Young, in a letter dated Oct. 10, that if “continuing problems” at the Logan County Detention Center in Paris are not addressed within one year, the committee may be forced to put the facility on probation or petition the state’s Attorney General to close the jail.
In response, Young said last week he is going to appoint a new committee, composed of three members of the Quorum Court, Logan County Sheriff Steve Smith and himself, to recommend options to the Quorum Court. Young said the committee will be appointed at the Tuesday, Nov. 12 Quorum Court meeting. Last year, Young appointed a committee composed of himself, Smith and former Sheriff Mark Limbird. The committee looked at renovating the jail and or finding property to build a new jail. The ideas have not moved further than that, Young said.
“I’m going to ask them to come up with a plan,” Young said of the new committee.
Young admitted there are no easy options available.
Young listed the options as renovating the existing Logan County Detention Center in Paris, building a new jail facility or housing inmates in another facility to alleviate the chronic overcrowding cited by the Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee.
“The third option is not a good one,” Young said last week. “We would have to pay a daily fee to house inmates, provide transportation and pay medical expenses. Over time, that’s going to add up.
“The problem with renovating the existing jail is the cost and the fact that when it’s finished, you still have an older building,” Young said. “In my opinion, a new facility will have to be built at some point because this is a safety issue — safety of the employees, safety of the public and safety of the prisoners.”
The overcrowding at the jail was described in the letter as “an extremely dangerous situation for the staff, inmates and the community.” In addition to overcrowding, the letter also cited a lack of inmate separation, cell designs that do not meet requirements of state law and a lack of sufficient staffing. In the letter, Danny Hickman, coordinator for the committee, said the county jail “doesn’t meet minimum Arkansas jail standards.”
The conclusions of the letter were based on a Sept. 30 inspection conducted by the 15th Judicial District Criminal Facilities Review Committee.
If building a new jail is the only feasible option available to the county, as Young believes, then the question becomes how to pay for it?
“That’s the big question,” Young said. “Maybe a 1 percent sales tax backing a bond issue. You’d also have to retain part of that tax to operate and manage the facility.”
Other counties are facing the same problem, Young said. He mentioned that Yell County is having an election in January on a 1 percent increase in sales taxes with proceeds paying for a new 75-bed jail. Crawford County is also having a sales tax election next year to build a new jail. Madison County voters rejected earlier this year a 1 percent increase in sales taxes to build a new jail.
“So, this is not just a Logan County problem,” Young said. “The bottom line is that we have to build a new jail. The alternatives aren’t feasible.
“We’re going to have to move on this,” he said. “We’re going to have to make a decision pretty quickly.”