JPs grapple with high cost of rising jail population

By Scarlet Sims
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE -- Cities must pay more to house inmates at the Washington County jail or the county must come up with ways to cover increasing costs, justices of the peace say.

"The jail is something you cannot do without," said Justice of the Peace Tom Lundstrum, a Republican representing the northwestern part of the county. "The public is going to have to pay for it, really, whether they want to or not."

Justices of the peace are looking at ways to handle a growing inmate population, a crowded jail and a shortfall in money to cover costs. The quarter-percent sales tax earmarked for the jail is not covering all costs.

About $2 million from the county's general fund was moved to pay for jail costs last year.

Meanwhile, crowding at the jail is not likely to stop soon, Sheriff Tim Helder told justices of the peace last week.

The 710-bed jail reached its highest daily inmate population of 709 last year, and the region's population is forecast to continue growing, Helder said. On top of that, Springdale plans to close its jail.

The city jail is the last one in Washington County. The county is state-mandated to house inmates.

Justices of the peace need to make plans, Helder said.

Any option is likely to take a year or more, Helder said. For example, getting a new bond for construction and building an addition to the jail would take at least until the end of 2019, he said. And, a sales tax increase would require a countywide vote, he said.

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