New Jail in Newton County Has No Funds to Operate

New Jail in Newton County Has No Funds to Operate

It was built last year but has yet to hold a single inmate.
With voter approval, Newton County, built a new jail in 2012, held a big grand opening to celebrate, and then promptly walked out and locked the doors. It hasn't been used since.

On a 2008 ballot, voters there were given two options: one to build the jail and another to fund it. While they went for the first, they didn't go for the second.

Inside the jail without inmates sits unused, state-of-the-art equipment, leaving the county only slightly better than when it relied on a jail built in 1903.

Voters thought building the new $1.2 million jail was a good idea.

"I believe it was December of 2011 and ended in August of 2012," recalls Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape.

But, staffing and operating it was another story.

"The operate and maintain failed by 84 votes," adds Sheriff Slape.

And so did the next vote.

"And it failed pretty big."

So the jail with its clean pods and unused bunks is kept a little warmer than a refrigerator.

"We try to keep the heat in here and make sure we don't have broken pipes."

For now, more than two dozen Newton County inmates are kept in jails in neighboring counties.

"District Court. We have to go up, bring them down."

They are shuttled back and forth to see a judge. The cost to the county is about $5,000 a month. The sheriff says the cost to run the jail will be much more.

"We budgeted it out and it's going to be roughly $302,000."

But, he and others in the county think the community is paying for what the criminals are not. Some receive suspended sentences.

"The premise is if you break the law you go to jail," says Doug Vanderwaal, owner of Ozark Cafe. "Here you really don't, because there is not enough money to send you there."

So the jail, just yards from the sheriff's office, stays dark and locked.

"And look at it every day. That's hard. But, to sit out there and watch some that's been suspended sentence walking the streets because they've stole something off someone's front yard and watch them wave at you and knowing they are not going to jail that's the hard thing about it."

In 2012, voters turned down another option to fund the jail. The sheriff says for now the county has no choice but to continue transporting inmates in and out of the county.

The sheriff says after both the 2008 and the 2012 vote, voters told him they found the language on the ballots confusing. Law enforcement is now working with local officials to try to come up with solution.

To watch this report, click here.
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