Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXXVII): Finally, a new jail under contract

The September 14 and 21 issues of the Newton County Times report progress on the matter of a new jail for Newton County, a story I've been covering here on Legal Ruralism for about three years. After residents voted in 2008 to support a sales tax increase to pay for a new jail, a number of challenges related to infrastructure and cost arose. Some of these infrastructure challenges are quintessentially rural--like the fact that the proposed site wouldn't pass a perc test to permit a septic tank, a deal breaker since the favored site did not have access to any city or county water and waste system. Read more here, here, here and here.

Now, the Quorum Court (essentially the county board of supervisors) has authorized the County Judge (chief administrative officer, an elected official), to purchase a "57-feet by 80-feet structure on real estate" in the center of town for the sum of $250,000. The structure will be converted into a new jail. Interestingly, the chosen site is in the center of the City of Jasper, the county seat. It is adjacent to both the old historic jail and the county's law enforcement center, and it is just one block off the town square, where the county court house sits. This is in sharp contrast to the earlier contemplated location, several miles outside the City of Jasper--a location that would have responded to "nimby" concerns, though I have seen none of those voiced in all of the news coverage I have read about the jail.

Not only has the land purchase been authorized, the Quorum Court has now also accepted the lowest bid, $840,000, to construct the jail. The bid went to Davis Construction, based in nearby Harrison, Arkansas. The only other bid from a contractor with the required bond was from a Tennessee company, with a price tag in excess of $1.3 million. The new jail will include five felon men cells containing two beds each; two felon women cells with two beds each, a male dormitory containing six beds, a women's dormitory containing six beds, a holding cell, a control room and a "cell meeting the American Disability Act standards for the handicapped." In addition, the jail will include a dormitory for eight state inmates in the Act 309 program, an ADA-compliant public restroom, an industrial kitchen, two inmate visitation rooms, a laundry room, an inmate property room at 180 square feet, a booking room, a record room, two men's showers and two women's showers. It will meet all "Criminal Detention Facilities Standards."

Final drawings by the contractor's architect will have to be approved by the state, which is likely to take about six weeks. Construction itself is expected to last eight or nine months.

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