Benton County jail numbers break record, justices of the peace say
BENTONVILLE – The Benton County Jail set a record with 751 inmates last week, dozens more than the jail’s 669-bed capacity.
Sheriff Shawn Holloway briefed justices of the peace on the case at the Benton County Quorum Court meeting on Thursday.
“We know this is something that is going to be a problem,” Holloway said.
The prison ran out of temporary beds and had to order more, he said.
Holloway said 110 state prisoners are being held in the jail awaiting transport to the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Smith told justices of the peace at the meeting that circuit judges were aware of the issue at the jail.
“The system is flooded and it’s not going to slow down,” Smith said.
Benton County District Attorney Nathan Smith said he spoke to Holloway about it and offered to make recommendations for release on a case-by-case basis to alleviate the situation. The main problem is the backlog of inmates awaiting transport to the Corrections Department, Smith said.
Twenty inmates were transferred to the State Department of Corrections on Thursday.
Lt. Shannon Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, said 20 inmates were transferred as of Friday morning. As of Friday, the prison population was 718, she said.
Jenkins said some inmates slept in what prison staff call boats, which are on the ground. A mattress fits inside the boat and the boat is transferred from cell to cell, she said.
Prison officials are working to provide Benton County Circuit Judges Robin Green and Brad Karren with inmate records in hopes they will pick 20 inmates who could be released, she said .
Jenkins said the prison’s capacity is 669 beds. However, that does not mean that the prison can hold 669 people. Detainees should be segregated into different categories, including separate spaces for women and men, offenders, sex offenders and other categories, she said.
Justices of the peace in September allowed County Judge Barry Moehring to seek qualifications from companies for concept studies for a possible extension of the Benton County Jail.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee presented a proposal to the US county bailout committee on prison expansion in September that would use the bailout money.
The federal plan provides $ 350 billion for qualifying state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, depending on the county. Benton County will receive a combined $ 54 million over the next two years.
Moehring previously said the money from the plan could be used for covid mitigation and prevention.
An eligible use is “support for prevention, mitigation or other services in collective living establishments (incarceration centers, homeless shelters, etc.)”, according to information from one county meeting on August 16 which discussed public health and economic recovery.
Holloway has previously said he plans to have pocket areas within the prison to hold people with HIV until they are not contagious.
The prison will eventually need to be expanded, Smith said.
“We have roughly the same prison capacity that we have had for over two decades at a time when Benton County has grown exponentially,” he said. “Growth means everything is increasing, even crime.”
He said it is important to expand the prison.
“Drug courts, mental health treatment and other diversion programs are important parts of our approach to crime reduction and rehabilitation,” said Smith. “However, the prison remains our most important tool in keeping our community safe, and I am encouraged that our quorum tribunal recognizes the need for expansion.”
As of Friday, the prison population in the Washington County jail was 720, Deputy Chief Jay Cantrell said.
Cantrell said the population was 699 in October with 93 inmates sleeping on the floor. The prison population reached 723 this month with 123 inmates sleeping on the floor.
Cantrell said the prison’s nominal capacity is 710 beds with an operational capacity of 80% of it.