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A jail crisis?

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Dear editor:

It's been rumored for some time the Garland County Detention Center (GCDC) is overcrowded, understaffed and unsafe for both residents and staff. Recently I heard Sheriff McCormick speak and he confirmed that for some time we've been releasing non-violent offenders to make space available for more dangerous offenders. Jail residents are sleeping on cots in all areas of the two open pods. On the day I heard Sheriff McCormick speak there were approximately 380 housed in an area designed for less than 300.

The new GCDC and the permanent three-eighths cent Jail Operating Tax (JOT) were supposed to end the problems with GC jail overcrowding and the need to release residents before sentences were served. JOT revenue and revenue growth have exceeded projections. Using the $6 million base number and 476 residents (the capacity number I think was discussed initially) the daily base projected cost per resident per day was projected to be approximately $35 (security, food, medical, etc.). There were discussions, when the ballot measure for jail construction and the three-eighths cent permanent JOT about various programs inside the jail to reduce recidivism, but they were to be operated by "community organizations including faith-based programs" at no cost to taxpayers.

During the jail construction period, the three-eighths cent operating tax produced approximately $6 million per year building a surplus above expenses to operate the then existing jail, approximately $2.1 million dollars. Immediately upon beginning to collect the new JOT the $2.1 million previously spent to operate the existing jail was permanently divided between the city, $600,000 to the city general fund and $1.5 million budgeted into other Garland County General Fund (GCGF) accounts.

Questions seeking answers:

  1. Why did the new GCDC keep taking residents when capacity was reached for the staffing level, if doing so created a hazardous situation for both residents and staff?

  2. At approximately what date did resident population reach the point they had to begin releasing non-violent offenders because of space limitations?

  3. Have expensive programs been implemented in the jail constraining our ability to hire adequate uniformed staff because of insufficient funds?

  4. Is the jail using the "indirect supervision" method the public was told would be more economical than a traditional jail using the "direct supervision" method?

Solving GCDC problems will require interactions with the sheriff, county administration, judges, prosecutors, HSPD, city elected officials and city bureaucrats. The circumstances; an overcrowded jail, early release of non-violent offenders, insufficient open pod space to house non-violent and violent criminals, and insufficient staffing present serious hazards to jail residents, jail staff, GC citizens and visitors to our community.

George Pritchett

Hot Springs

Editorial on 10/10/2018

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