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.
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.