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State warns county officials: Jail subject to closure

Monday, November 7, 2011

(Photo)
On Oct. 27, a state jail inspection official issued a warning that, without major improvements, a lawsuit will be filed next spring to close the Fulton County Jail.

Randy Rankin, coordinator for the 16th Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee, issued the notice in a letter to County Judge Charles Willett.

October 20 Inspection

Rankin said, an Oct. 20 re-inspection of the Fulton County Jail found, "no improvement in the serious and liable conditions at the jail."

Rankin listed 12 areas in which the jail fails to meet state standards, which he summarized, "The committee again found the jail to be very inadequate to meet the needs of Fulton County. Because the jail conditions continue to be less than Arkansas State Jail Standards' allow, the committee is granting six more months to solve or make improvements to the problems in the jail."

A final warning was in bold type: "THIS IS THE LAST NOTICE THE COMMITTEE WILL PROVIDE BEFORE FILING SUIT WITH THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL TO CLOSE THE JAIL."

"They are serious."

"They told us a while back that, if the jail financing plan doesn't pass (in the Nov. 8 election), they would shut the jail down," said Judge Willett. "This letter makes it clear they are serious. That's why the election is so important."

According to Willett, many people still think they are being asked to pass a new tax to pay for the jail when, in fact, the county wants to use 17.5 percent of an existing one cent sales tax to make jail loan payments.

Willett added some have told him they understand the proposal better after reading an editorial commentary in the Oct. 27 edition of The News, explaining the ballot question.

"I just hope people understand that, if they turn down using the sales tax money, which is already being collected, there will not be a jail in Fulton County," Willett said. "We will have to pay other jails to hold everyone we arrest. It could get to the point that we can't afford to arrest people. We won't have the money to pay to hold them."

Willett added, if voters approve the jail finance plan, he believes the state will allow the current jail to remain open, while the new jail is built.

"They have said, as long as we are making progress toward building a jail, they will work with us," said Willett.

State Inspection Results

The letter from the jail review committee, which is being printed in its entirety, explains in simple terms what is wrong with Fulton County's current jail, and why it must be closed.

October 27, 2011

Dear Judge Willett:

I am writing this letter at the direction of the 16th Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee. The Committee re-inspected the Fulton County Detention Center on Thursday, October 20, 2011. This inspection revealed that there has been no improvement in the serious and liable conditions at the jail, which include:

OVERCROWDING: On this date, the population was seven inmates, but on the following Monday there were 21 inmates, which exceeds the maximum capacity of seven inmates. These numbers continue to make the Fulton County Jail out of compliance with the Arkansas State Jail Standards. This situation creates serious security, safety, and health risks for both the inmates and the jail staff, which are also matters of concern for Standards compliance. In addition, many people who should be in the jail must be released to the public, pending trial. There are also several inmates farmed out to other county jails.

INMATE SEPARATION: The jail is too small to separate by class as required by Arkansas State Jail Standards. This is caused by chronic overcrowding.

SUFFICIENT STAFF: The jail does not have sufficient staff on duty at all times because of the overcrowding.

GENERAL HOUSING: The cells do not meet general housing requirements because of overcrowding.

FOOTAGE REQUIREMENTS: The cells do not meet the square footage requirements because of overcrowding.

STORAGE: There is no space for storage of security equipment or cleaning supplies as required by Arkansas State Jail Standards.

INADEQUATE SPACE: The jail is simply too small to meet the needs of the County's inmate population.

KITCHEN: The kitchen area is too small to provide adequate space for food preparation and handling.

VISITATION: This facility does not have adequate space for a secure visitation.

LIGHTING: This jail does not provide adequate lighting, and the inmates do not get any natural light.

AUTOMATIC CUT-IN GENERATOR: This facility does not have an automatic cut-in generator for emergency lighting and equipment.

DISABLED: There is not a cell that can be used to house the disabled at this facility.

SUMMARY: The Committee again found the jail to be very inadequate to meet the needs of Fulton County. Because the jail conditions continue to be less than Arkansas State Jail Standards' allow, the Committee is granting Fulton County six (6) more months to solve or make improvements to the problems in the jail.

THIS IS THE LAST NOTICE THE COMMITTEE WILL PROVIDE BEFORE FILING SUIT WITH THE OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL TO CLOSE THE JAIL.

If the Committee can be of any assistance during this six (6) month period, please let us know.

Sincerely,

Justin Burge (Chairperson)

16th Judicial District Committee Detention Facilities Review Committee

By: Randy Rankin, Coordinator

Nov. 8 Election

Early voting for the Nov. 8 election began on Nov. 1 at the Fulton County Courthouse. It will continue during weekday business hours through Nov. 7.

The Nov. 8 election will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at regular Fulton County Polling places.

Two questions are on the ballot, one is the jail financing issue. It asks voters for permission to use 17.5 percent of the county's existing Sales and Use Tax to make loan payments on bonds used for jail construction.

A second question asks for voter approval of a plan to issue up to $575,000.000 in bonds for Arkansas road and highway improvements. As with question one, the bond issue does not involve creating a new tax.

The highway bonds will be paid with Arkansas' share of federal highway funds.


Comments
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PLAN A:seems to me the county officials are hoping that the resident voters will vote in favor of using the tax money.

what, NO PLAN B?

LETS SEE,the county had about 2 years to get the jail already in place up to par, but instead, lets build a new ball park.

let us fund a new jail with a budget we can't get balanced to begin with, take money away from the county road department that bairly takes care of the roads, and issue bonds in hopes, that in a bad economy base, people will purchase.

someone doesn't have the whole picture.

couldn't the county have brought in an advisor to see if the county could afford to build a new jail?

what about an advisor to see what it would cost to fix the jail we already have?

fulton county hospital did, and it was determined that they didn't have a hope of getting the hospital profitable.

lots of states don't even put people in jail for every little crime like we do.

lots of other states issue a summons to appear, suspend the license, tow the vehicle.

i guess our county needs to make money on bonds, and jail fees.

this would do away with what seems to me the biggest issue involved, OVERCROWDING.

another jail issue which the Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee didn't notice was the fact that we have a jailer with zero medical knowledge admideristing prescription drugs!

most jails have a registered nurse preform that job. boy, we better hope the jailer doesn't give the wrong dose of something to someone, could be a huge lawsuit. lets face it, in this county good luck getting a fair court hearing over something like that.

lets see, can we fix the jail we already have in place.

1.OVERCROWDING:lets stop putting folks in jail for every little criminal offence.

2.SUFFICIENT STAFF: again an issue with too many people in the jail, and what's wrong with creating a few more jobs to staff the jail properly.

3.INMATE SEPARATION: we have i think 2 different lock units with 7 cells total. none of the cell locks work. lets fix the locks people, and start dividing up the inmates.

4.GENERAL HOUSING, FOOTAGE REQUIREMENTS,INADEQUATE SPACE,VISITATION: what about just adding onto the jail. might be a whole lot cheaper than building a whole new jail.

5. STORAGE: there has to be some place we can store these items.

6:KITCHEN: what about having a local place cater to the jail.

7: LIGHTING: how about letting the inmates out side for more than just 10 minutes before dark when the jailer feels up to it.

8:AUTOMATIC CUT-IN GENERATOR: boy, this should have been done long ago, generators have been in use for 50 years. it's the 21st century in america my friend.

9:DISABLED: again, the disablity law was passed over 25 years ago. 25 years and still no way to house the disabled, or even get them up to the court room. someone is dropping the ball here.

i guess the county is just hoping that we don't have to deal with someone in a wheelchair.

in all, will i vote to build a new jail? probably not, i don't think enough thought has been put into the issue.

lets face it, now the county is down to the wire, and all roads should have been explored over a year ago, this is a serious issue. and our county officials are dropping the ball, and might just be heading us down a wrong path with no real road map in place.

-- Posted by sentinel on Fri, Nov 4, 2011, at 8:48 AM


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