From Sheriff Helder:
An Open Letter to the Citizens / Taxpayers / Voters of Washington County Regarding a Possible Jail Expansion:
If you follow the happenings at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, then you know I have always tried to keep you informed about any issues or pertinent information involving the Sheriff’s Office, and in keeping with that, I want to share information with you about a proposed jail expansion for Washington County.
Since at least February of 2014, I have been reporting to our Quorum Court that the Washington County Detention Center was in crisis mode because of overcrowding. I cautioned that they would have to consider expanding the jail sometime in the near future. Well, that time has arrived. I believe it’s important to not only share with the Quorum Court the reasons for the need to expand, but also share them with you, the citizens of Washington County, who would be paying for an expansion through a proposed tax increase. Please know, I also live in Washington County so I am a taxpayer as well. I don’t want to expand our detention center any more than any of you do, but I am telling you it is now imperative, with the explosive growth of our area, that we increase our jail capacity, and sooner rather than later. The Washington County Detention Center is used by every police department and court in the county to house detainees, both pre-trial and convicted. Springdale Police Department, the only police department in our county to still house some inmates (they book-in approximately 8,000 per year), has put us on notice they will be closing their jail no later than 2020. We are at capacity now, so just imagine what it will be when they close their facility.
In this letter, I will share with you the federal and state laws under which I am bound while operating this detention center, all of the things we have been doing (for several years) to try and reduce our overcrowding situation, and the things I will be required to do because of federal and state law if a jail expansion is not approved.
The proposal is currently in the hands of our Quorum Court, and it will be up to the 15 seated Quorum Court members to vote to place the jail expansion proposal on a ballot so Washington County citizens can be allowed the opportunity to vote (for or against) this much needed jail expansion.
I know this will be a lot to read in one letter, but deciding on a jail expansion is a big deal, so my goal is to provide you with as much information as possible so you can determine for yourselves if a jail expansion is the best decision for our community.
I would like to note, there have been several suggestions from a few community members about how to reduce the number of detainees in our Washington County Detention Center, but most of the suggestions are things that I, as Sheriff of Washington County, have no control over. The Office of the Sheriff falls within the Executive Branch of government, not the Judicial Branch or Legislative Branch.
Some statements have also been publicly made that are not factual, or just need to be responded to publicly as well, so for informational purposes, I will list a section at the end called “Myth vs. Fact” and “Q and A”. Some suggestions I agree with, some I don’t, some we are already doing, many have been debated for years and I’m sure will continue to be, regarding incarceration and jails nationwide.
My requirements as Sheriff of Washington County fall under state and federal law, which is why I believe it is critical that you as voters are allowed to vote on this proposed jail expansion.
State law requires the following of the Office of the Sheriff:
The county sheriff of each county in this state shall have the custody, rule, and charge of the jail within his or her county and all prisoners committed in his or her county, and he or she may appoint a jailer for whose conduct he or she shall be responsible.
(a) Each sheriff shall be a conservator of the peace in his or her county and shall cause all offenders against the laws of this state, in his or her view or hearing, to enter into recognizance to keep the peace and appear at the next term of the circuit court of the county and, on the failure of the offender to enter into recognizance, to commit him or her to jail.
(b) The sheriff shall certify to the clerk of the circuit court all recognizances taken by him or her.
(A) The sheriff, who shall be ex officio collector of taxes, unless otherwise provided by law, shall perform such duties as are prescribed by law. It shall be the general duty of each sheriff to quell and suppress all assaults and batteries, affrays, insurrections, and unlawful assemblies.
(B) The sheriff shall:
(i) Apprehend and commit to jail all felons and other offenders;
(ii) Execute all process directed to him or her by legal authority;
(iii) Attend upon all courts held in his or her county until otherwise provided by law; and
(iv) Perform all other acts and things that are required by law;
In short, the Sheriff is required to protect the courts, keep the peace and run the county jail.
STATE law requires the following of county government (through the Quorum Court) regarding Law Enforcement and Jails: (shall vs. may)
14-14-802. Providing of Services Generally
(a) A county government, acting through the county quorum court, shall provide, through ordinance, for the following necessary services for its citizens:
(1) The administration of justice through the several courts of record of the county;
(2) Law enforcement protection services and the custody of persons accused or convicted of crimes;
(3) Real and personal property tax administration, including assessments, collection, and custody of tax proceeds;
(4) Court and public records management, as provided by law, including registration, recording, and custody of public records; and
(5) All other services prescribed by state law for performance by each of the elected county officers or departments of county government.
(1) A county government, acting through the quorum court, may provide through ordinance for the establishment of any service or performance of any function not expressly prohibited by the Arkansas Constitution or by law.
(2) These legislative services and functions include, but are not limited to, the following services and facilities:
(A) Agricultural services, including:
(i) Extension services, including agricultural, home economic, and community development;
(ii) Fairs and livestock shows and sales services;
(iii) Livestock inspection and protection services;
(iv) Market and marketing services;
(v) Rodent, predator, and vertebrate control services; and
(vi) Weed and insect control services;
(B) Community and rural development services, including:
(i) Economic development services;
(ii) Housing services;
(iii) Open spaces;
(iv) Planning, zoning, and subdivision control services;
(v) Urban and rural development, rehabilitation, and redevelopment services; and
(vi) Watercourse, drainage, irrigation, and flood control services;
(C) Community services, including:
(i) Animal control services;
(ii) Cemetery, burial, and memorial services;
(iii) Consumer education and protection services;
(iv) Exhibition and show services;
(v) Libraries, museums, civic center auditoriums, and historical, cultural, or natural site services;
(vi) Park and recreation services; and
(vii) Public camping services;
(D) Emergency services, including:
(i) Ambulance services;
(ii) Civil defense services;
(iii) Fire prevention and protection services; and
(iv) Juvenile attention services;
(E) Human services, including:
(i) Air and water pollution control services;
(ii) Child care, youth, and senior citizen services;
(iii) Public health and hospital services;
(iv) Public nursing and extended care services; and
(v) Social and rehabilitative services;
(F) Solid waste services, including:
(i) Recycling services; and
(ii) Solid waste collection and disposal services;
(G) Transportation services, including:
(i) Roads, bridges, airports, and aviation services;
(ii) Ferries, wharves, docks, and other marine services;
(iii) Parking services; and
(iv) Public transportation services;
(H) Water, sewer, and other utility services, including:
(i) Sanitary and storm sewers and sewage treatment services; and
(ii) Water supply and distribution services;
(I) Job training services and facilities; and
(J) Other services related to county affairs.
LAWS regarding Jail Overcrowding – Mike Rainwater, Litigation Counsel for the Arkansas Association of Counties Risk Management Fund:
“Every jail has a constitutional max population.” A case out of Sebastian County, Arkansas, set the national standard for maximum jail population. It is 43.3 square feet per detainee. This is the constitutional standard. Violating the constitutional standard is an actionable wrong, which means that a jail detainee who sues for violation of the 43.3 square feet rule will win a verdict against the jail.” (Jail = County = Taxpayer)
Extended Overcrowding: Overcrowding or other jail conditions which subject detainees to genuine privation and hardship over an extended period that is not reasonably related to legitimate governmental jail objectives of maintaining order and ensuring security is unconstitutional “punishment.”
It is important to realize that the constitutional limit (of 43.3 square feet per detainee) is a real limit for the total jail population.
Arkansas Jail Standards provide that all detainees have a right to humane treatment which provides for … clean living quarters and a healthy safe and secure environment.
When the maximum limit is reached, it is time to seek overcrowding relief.
PLEASE NOTE: Washington County currently has two federal lawsuits filed addressing overcrowding in the Washington County Jail.
Sheriff’s Authority to Refuse to Accept Prisoners:
“Neither sheriffs nor other keepers or administrators of jails shall refuse to accept any prisoner lawfully arrested or committed within the jurisdiction of the supporting agency of the jail except as necessary to limit prisoner population in compliance with [the laws and constitution of this state and within the requirements of the United States Constitution].” A.C.A. 12-41-503(b)
“Sheriffs and other keepers or administrators of jails within the State of Arkansas are responsible for managing the populations and operations of their respective facilities in compliance with the laws and constitution of this state and within the requirements of the United States Constitution.” A.C.A. 12-41-503(a)
The Sheriff has the following “tools” to use to reduce the population of his/her county jail:
|• Refuse to Accept Detainees, per A.C.A. 12-41-503(b);
• Release Misdemeanor Detainees, per Rule 5.2(b) of the Ark. Rules of Criminal Procedure;
• Release Felon Detainees (with the Prosecuting Attorney’s recommendation), per Rule 5.2(c) of the Ark. Rules of Criminal Procedure;
• Grant Meritorious Good Time, per A.C.A. 12-41-101(a);
• Use a Work-Release Program, per A.C.A. 12-42-116; and
• Use Electronic Monitoring, per A.C.A. 12-41-503(c) and A.C.A. 12-42-116(b) and A.C.A. 12-41-503(b)
These are things we have been doing to try and reduce our overcrowding situation:
For several years, since the beginning of our overcrowding issues, we have been in communication with our Prosecuting Attorney, Circuit Judges, Coordinator for Public Defenders, District Judges, and other law enforcement agencies, trying to find ways to reduce overcrowding through alternative sentencing, reducing the number of cases being reset which keeps some detainees in jail, writing citations instead of bringing someone to jail, etc.
Our Community Service and Work Release Programs have been the model for other agencies throughout the state. Just in the past two years, these programs are responsible for 63,703 work hours, helping 958 community organizations, including 14,543 hours to our County’s animal shelter. This program not only saves taxpayers the $62 per day it would cost if the detainees in these programs were housed in the county jail, but it saves the county thousands of dollars in manpower that would be needed if these services weren’t provided. Most of these detainees are required to bring their own lunch and pay a $15.00 daily fee for the privilege of participating in this program. In addition, the state reimburses the county $2.00 per detainee, per every hour spent picking up trash along a state highway. I’m convinced this is a worthy and cost effective way to help manage our inmate population, contribute to the greater good of the community and allows these people to contribute to society rather than sit in a jail cell draining the county coffer.
I have spent many days in Little Rock, speaking with both Governor Beebe and Governor Hutchinson about the issues of holding a backlog of state prisoner in our jails because there was no room in state prisons for them after they were convicted.
I was appointed by Governor Hutchinson to be on a mental health and prison reform committee, which resulted in Act 423 becoming law. The two big topics this law touches on include probation and mental health. Probation, because probation officers often don’t get much time to help offenders who are in jail because of technical violations. This law increases the number of probation officers and allows those on probation a specific number of strikes as long as they don’t commit a violent crime. A big part of it also involves mental health. In 2007, I asked the University of Arkansas to do a study within our detention center that determined about 25 percent of Washington County inmates had a mental illness. Since then, I’m sure that number has gone up. This law helps officers across the state get the training they need when dealing with an inmate with mental illness. The training helps them identify people who are in an acute state when it comes to mental health, how to deescalate that behavior, then try to determine a better outcome rather than just sticking them in jail. This is also part of why Crisis Stabilization Units were created and a reason Washington County was selected to receive one of the (4) Crisis Stabilization Units in Arkansas. The law helps address individuals with mental health issues by getting them the help they need instead of putting them in jail. We don’t expect Washington County’s Crisis Stabilization Unit to help greatly with our overcrowding issues since it’s only set to be a 16 bed facility and will be used by a 4-county area, but we do expect it to be a great benefit for the mentally ill in our community, taking some of them out of the jail environment and placing them in an area where they can get the help they need.
I was appointed by former Governor Beebe to a committee on prison reform that ultimately resulted in the State Legislature passing Act 570.
We have been very aggressive administratively, releasing misdemeanor and non-violent offenders at a rate of approximately 200 per month.
Ankle monitoring is available and we do use them on individuals who qualify, usually due to medical conditions.
So, I know I have provided you with a LOT of information, and I’m sure there will continue to be numerous emails and comments back and forth from people for/and against the issue, but my hope is, whether you believe a jail expansion is needed or not, that our Quorum Court will allow the proposal to be brought to a vote so that YOU, the citizens/taxpayers/voters of Washington County, the people in the community who it will affect the most, will have the opportunity decide for yourselves.
Sheriff Tim Helder