BY MELANIE BUCK –
Polk County’s Detention Facility Plan of Action has been accepted and praised by the 18th West Judicial District Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee and the Governor’s Appointee Over Jail Standards, Sterling Penix. In a letter received on Monday by Polk County Judge, Brandon Ellison, the committee said, “The County’s Improvement Plan, past actions, ongoing work, commitment to success, dedication to public safety, as well as other aspects are to be commended. The Review Committee applauds Polk County officials, leaders, and citizens as they work to bring about a detention enterprise that will well serve the community,” eliminating the once looming threat of jail closure.
The letter also said the committee “is pleased to accept the Polk County Improvement Plan Update as presented,” and that Polk County “will continue full detention operations,” during the implementation of the plan.
The plan, as presented to Penix on September 1, 2016, by Judge Ellison, along with Interim-Sheriff Jack Peebles and Sheriff-Elect Scott Sawyer, outlines two phases of the project. In phase one, dubbed the ‘safety upgrade’ phase, updates and improvements will include: the installation of a camera system, creation of a mobile/detached kitchen, intake area door expansion, book-in area expansion, encasement and/or elimination of electrical cords, creation of a second exit within the west wing, creation of a handicap cell, maintenance of a proper inmate population, fire safety code compliance, and the creation of an outdoor exercise area.
The county is currently working with an architect through SouthBuild, LLC, out of Collierville, Tennesse, who are well versed in building corrections facilities. Once the architectural designs are created, the County is prepared to implement the plan. The county has allocated $500,000 from general funds to complete phase one. In addition to the $500,000 set aside, Ellison expects that another $500,000 can be added next year to complete the project and bring the jail into compliance. “Fresh off of a sales tax election defeat, that was negatively decisive, the Polk County Quorum Court set aside $500,000 to start a fund dedicated to jail improvement and/or jail construction. Conventional thought is that this amount can be added to this fund annually to either partially, or fully fund our eventual facility,” explained Ellison.
Phase Two of the plan will be announced by November 30, 2018. At that time, Polk County will be prepared to either build a new facility or expand the current facility. Either way, the plan will bring several factors, including: the creation of sufficient space required for an indoor activity room, sufficient storage space, sufficient space for administrative operations, flooding/plumbing issues, long-term food service component, housing plan, sufficient number of cells, as well as the other items and concepts as provided by the Arkansas Criminal Detention Facility Standards. With Phase Two, the county will have a compliant 48-bed jail designed to efficiently meet local needs.
In the meantime, there are other plans in the works that could help alleviate Polk County’s insufficient space for the jail population. Judge Ellison spoke of a regional jail that could be completed in less than two years. “We are hopeful that within 18-24 months, a regional jail will be operational that we can utilize to help manage any numbers beyond our capacity. A regional jail would be ideal for our post-conviction ADC inmates waiting for a state bed. The regional jail concept would also provide a more desirable and economical option of ‘farming’ out any other inmates, if necessary, while completing our eventual facility,” Ellison explained.
Phase One is expected to be completed by December 31, 2017. Phase Two completion dates are dependant on which plan is chosen. If an expansion of the current facility is chosen, it is expected to be completed by December 31, 2019. If a new jail facility is chosen, it is expected to be completed by August 31, 2021. “Goals play an important part in the strategy of accomplishing projects, even when dealing with unknown factors such as the vagaries of weather, legislative bodies, disasters, and economic cycles. I believe these goals and timetables can be achieved,” said Ellison.