Jail Inadequacies Prompt Changes in Operations
Some changes are being implemented in the operation of the Cleburne County Jail, and it is important for our community to understand what is happening, and why it is happening. The State of Arkansas is one of several states that has minimum standards for jail operations, including things such as staffing levels, minimum square footage required per person housed, inmate classification and separation, male/female separation, space for inmate programming (classes, chapel, etc.), administrative segregation (discipline), long term/short term housing, and natural/artificial lighting. These standards are the State’s way to help ensure that inmates are being cared for in a safe, efficient, and constitutional manner. This is important, because unlike prisons, many of the inmates housed in county jails are “Pre-trial” (haven’t been convicted/sentenced). Since our criminal justice system maintains that accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty, there are still many aspects of care and living that become the County’s responsibility once someone is arrested.
In order to ensure compliance with these minimum requirements, the State Criminal Detention Facility Review Committee, also known as Jail Standards, conducts on-site reviews of all Arkansas detention facilities once per year. In the last 14 years, the Cleburne County Jail has been determined to be out of compliance with State Minimum Standards for 12 of those years. The biggest issues for several of those years has been staffing levels and the inability to classify and separate inmates (among other things). Over the last two years, the Sheriff’s Office has actively sought to correct many problems, such as lack of natural and artificial light, replacing missing or non-existent fire sprinklers, SCBA breathing rigs, leaking areas of the roof, plumbing and electrical issues, and replacing other broken fixtures including plexiglass where present. The Quorum Court, who sets staff numbers and salaries for all county offices and employees, has also sought to address the staffing issues by adding one new jailer position for the 2018 year, and two more jailer positions for the 2019 year.
However, while the above listed items are easily correctable, lack of space for housing, storage, and inmate programming is a much more difficult issue to address. In 2017, the Quorum Court formed a Jail Review Committee to work with the Sheriff’s Office in addressing the remaining issues and coming to a solution to bring our facility into compliance with Jail Standards. During the 2018 Jail Standards Review, a stipulation was placed on the County to present a written plan to Jail Standards during the April 2019 Quorum Court Meeting for how the facility would be brought into compliance. The Sheriff’s Office, with the help of the County Jail Review Committee, and State Jail Standards has put together a plan aimed at bringing the facility into compliance on a short-term basis, with the goal of beginning to work on a long-term solution after the implementation of that plan.
That plan, voted on and approved by the Quorum Court during April’s Quorum Court Meeting, is centered around the jail no longer being a long-term female holding facility. The jail will continue to hold males long-term, and will begin paying for females to be housed in the White County Jail. It is important to note that this is not a long-term solution, and that there will be some very big decisions for the county to make (more than likely as a voting body) going into the future. Moving the females to White County allows for using current female housing areas to be turned into space needed to meet other minimum requirements, such as inmate programming, and classifying/separating inmates.
This is not a plan that is popular, even among those that worked closely on the project, but as a County Government, it is our responsibility and duty to operate a facility that is in compliance with State Law, and allows the jail to be run in a safe, efficient, and constitutional manner. The popular and most widely received advice when discussing a jail’s deficiencies are that all the inmates should be put in tents in a similar fashion to what was done in Maricopa County, Arizona. However, that facility was a minimum-security facility mainly geared toward trustees, and was complemented by five other traditional style brick-and-mortar jails located around Phoenix. That facility is also no longer operational, and has been dismantled in its entirety. It is not a realistic solution here. Other suggestions for construction have been metal buildings or “pole-barn” style structures, but those do not necessarily comply with minimum standards either, and are not a realistic solution for our county.
A more in-depth analysis of the jail, its operation, and deficiencies is available on the Sheriff’s Office website, by email upon request, and in person at the Sheriff’s Office during business hours.
-Sheriff Chris Brown