Gov. Hutchinson attends opening of new Lawrence County Detention Center

The $8.5 million project doubled the county’s inmate capacity to 100 beds.

By Michael Tilley
Talk Business & Politics

High winds battered many parts of Northeast Arkansas on Tuesday (March 6), but it wasn’t enough to stop Gov. Asa Hutchinson from attending the grand opening of the Lawrence County Detention Center in Walnut Ridge. The governor was a few minutes late, but his aircraft was able to land at the Walnut Ridge Airport despite weather conditions.

“I’m a wind-blown governor,” Hutchinson said to a chorus of laughter by those in attendance.

The $8.5 million project doubled the county’s inmate capacity to 100 beds. It had been a dream in the county for many years, Lawrence County Judge John Thomison said. High costs and other obstacles stopped several other attempts, but voters in the county decided about three years ago something had to be done, he said.

For many years the county’s jail suffered from chronic overcrowding and inadequate facilities. The jail was built in the 1960s and was meant to house up to 42 inmates. An explosion of drug-related arrests, especially prescription drug and methamphetamine, led to constant overcrowding. There were many weekends when the inmate roster pushed 70 inmates, almost double its legal capacity.

When Arkansas Jail Standards examined the jail in 2014, the chronic overcrowding was noted, but other problems were discovered. The kitchen area was too small, the jail cells needed to be replaced, the first-aid facilities were obsolete, and the inmates didn’t have an exercise area, according to the report. Read more.

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