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County warned about problems with jail

The coordinator for the state’s Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee, has informed Logan County Judge Gus Young that if “continuing problems” at the Logan County Detention Center in Paris are not addressed within one year, the committee may be forced to put the facility on probation or petition the Attorney General to close the jail.

In a letter dated Oct. 10, Danny Hickman, coordinator for the committee, listed the continuing problems as chronic overcrowding, lack of inmate separation, cell designs that do not meet requirements of state law and a lack of sufficient staffing. In the letter, Hickman said the county jail doesn’t meet minimum Arkansas jail standards.

The conditions mentioned in the letter existed when the 15th Judicial District Criminal Facilities Review Committee conducted an inspection of the facility on Sept. 30.

Logan County Sheriff Steve Smith said if the inspection had resulted in a letter grade for the jail, “it would be a D. Not to the point of failing but pushing it.”

Logan County Detention Center Administrator Chief Deputy David Spicer said the committee was giving the county “fair warning.”

“They told us they are going to have to do something if we don’t do something about the four main issues they identified,” Spicer said.

On the day of the inspection, Spicer said the jail was housing 50 prisoners. The maximum capacity is 34.

“Of those 50 prisoners, 33 of them are in jail awaiting trial of felony charges,” Spicer said. “Eleven of them have been convicted of felony charges and are waiting for space to open up in the Arkansas Department of Correction. We are waiting on a call telling us to bring them.”

The overcrowding at the jail was described in the letter as “an extremely dangerous situation for the staff, inmates and the community.”

As for being understaffed, Smith said “staffing can only be addressed by hiring additional employees. Funds would have to be allocated to hire them.”

Smith has been saying for more than a year that the jail needs major renovations or a new jail needs to be built and has advocated the passage of a sales tax to fund either. The County Judge appointed a committee last year to take a look at the jail situation. The committee looked at renovating the jail and or finding property to build a new jail. The ideas have not moved further than that, County Judge Gus Young said.

Smith said there are short term and long term solutions available to the county.

“In the long term, a new jail has to be built,” he said. “In the short term, the solution is to house inmates at other facilities and we can’t afford to do that. Or, we set a maximum number of inmates we can house and don’t go over that maximum.”

In the letter, Hickman states that failing to address the situation could be expensive.

“It needs to be understood that constitutional issues may arise that can generate a lot more expenses than what a reasonable jail renovation would cost,” Hickman wrote.

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