Pope County Sheriff writes letter asking for new justice complex

Local News

POPE COUNTY, Ark. – Pope County Sheriff Shane Jones has released an open letter to taxpayers asking for a new justice center [see art renderings above and below].

The letter says that there is a need for a new jail because overcrowding has been an issue for several years.

Sheriff Jones says if jail overcrowding continues to be a problem it could become a public safety concern.

However, the sheriff says to fund an updated justice center, there must be a tax increase or proposed bond initiative.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

An Open Letter to the Citizens:

An Open Letter to the Citizens/ Taxpayers/ Voters of Pope County Regarding a New Pope County Justice Complex:

If you follow the happenings at the Pope County Sheriff’s Office, then you know I have always tried to keep you informed about any issues or pertinent information involving the Sheriff’s Office, and in keeping with that, I want to share information with you about a proposed new justice complex for Pope County.
Since around 2016 I have been telling our citizens and the members of Quorum Court that the Pope County Detention Center has been consistently at capacity or over capacity, and eventually we are going to have a crisis because of overcrowding. I have cautioned that we would have to consider building a new jail sometime in the near future. Well, that time has arrived. I believe it’s important to share this information with you, the citizens of Pope County, who would be paying for a new justice complex through either a tax increase or the proposed bond initiative that the Quorum Court has decided to put before you the voters on the upcoming March 3rd primary election. Please know, I also live and pay taxes in our county, and I don’t like the idea of having to pay more taxes to build a new detention center any more than you do, but I am telling you it is now imperative, with the growth of our area, that we increase our jail capacity sooner rather than later and because it’s a major public safety concern. The Pope County Detention Center is used by every police department and court in the county to house detainees, both pre-trial and convicted. 

The Pope County Detention Center was originally built in 1981 and an addition was constructed in 2000. The detention center currently is currently licensed for 172 detainees. During our last inspection, which is conducted yearly by The State of Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee, it showed that our daily average population was 200 detainees. Our detainee population has been at or over capacity since 2009.
Laws Regarding Jail Overcrowding by Mike Rainwater, Litigation Counsel for the Arkansas Association of Counties Risk Management Fund wrote: “Every jail has a constitutional max population.”  A case out of Sebastian County, Arkansas, set the national standard for maximum jail population.  It is 43.3 square feet per detainee.  This is the constitutional standard.  Violating the constitutional standard is an actionable wrong, which means that a jail detainee who sues for violation of the 43.3 square feet rule will win a verdict against the jail.” (Jail = County = Taxpayer)

Extended Overcrowding:  Overcrowding or other jail conditions which subject detainees to genuine privation and hardship over an extended period that is not reasonably related to legitimate governmental jail objectives of maintaining order and ensuring security is unconstitutional “punishment.”

It is important to realize that the constitutional limit (of 43.3 square feet per detainee) is a real limit for the total jail population.

Arkansas Jail Standards provide that all detainees have a right to humane treatment which provides for … clean living quarters and a healthy, safe, and secure environment.

When the maximum limit is reached, it is time to seek overcrowding relief.

Since our last inspection conducted by the State of Arkansas Criminal Detention Review Committee, the committee requested that the Pope County Sheriff’s Department organize and craft an Improvement Plan with respect to jail operations. The plan is due by December of 2020. The plan is to include a prompt action start date, as well as, a budget funding framework. In doing so, Pope County Judge Ben Cross and the Pope County Quorum Court have been diligent to the state’s request. They established a jail committee, and have been working on ways to obtain this objective requested by the state. One of the objectives discussed by the quorum court was pertaining to Amendment 100, which the state passed to allow casino expansion in 4 counties in Arkansas; Pope County being one of them. Now I personally did not vote for Amendment 100, not because I was against casinos, but because I personally had issues with some technical flaws within the amendment; but the state voted, and it passed. After Amendment 100 passed, our state legislators passed Arkansas State Law ACT 703 for the explicit benefit of those 4 counties to issue bonds for infrastructure improvements at NO cost to the local tax payers. The Pope County Quorum Court agreed that we have a potential crisis with the detention center, and a major public safety concern, and needed to put a plan together. So on March 3rd , we the voters of Pope County, will have the opportunity to vote on this Justice Complex Bond Initiative. The complex will include a new sheriff’s department and detention center doubling our current capacity. The facility will also include a 911 Center, Emergency Operations Center and 2 new Circuit Courts along with a Coroner Facility that Pope County does not currently have.
So, I know I have provided you with a lot of information, and I’m sure there will continue to be discussion’s back and forth from those who are for and against the issue, but it is my hope that you understand that we have a potential crisis with our detention center and a major public safety concern. My opinion is if you were for or against the casino, I would rather have the casino pay for a new Pope County Justice Complex, then having to raise our tax dollars to pay for it.
I have included with this letter our latest inspection from Arkansas Criminal Jail Standards. Please feel free to review the document.
It is always an honor and a privilege to serve as your sheriff and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I pray that we can come together as a county and do what’s right for the future.
                                                                                      Respectfully,

Sheriff Shane Jones

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