Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXI): "Jail Closed"

That's the big headline in the July 9, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times. I've been following this impending closures for about a year now. The Sheriff finally closed the jail on July 1, under threat of a lawsuit by the state attorney general after the century-old jail was condemned several months ago. The Sheriff reported that "dispatch and other operations are now working out of the law enforcement center across the street." He also reported that two prisoners who are awaiting transport to the Arkansas Department of Corrections have been moved to the Boone County Jail, which is about 20 miles away. The state pays for the cost of housing those prisoners, but the Sheriff said he would "watch closely" which "law violators are cited and released and which should be incarcerated in a neighboring jail" because these will be housed at Newton County's expense.

Interestingly, the Sheriff said he is also working with the district court to maintain a community service work and release program. I've never heard such a program mentioned previously, but it would seem a wonderful thing if this lack of a jail--albeit temporary--led to more progressive and rehabilitation-oriented handling of offenders. It could save the county a lot of money over the long run.

The ongoing jail saga also illustrates the cost of rights--taxes must be paid, not least at the local level, to finance our criminal justice system. This means, effectively, that taxes are not optional, at least they are not if we are to live up to our constitutional mandate.

Also on the front page are these headlines:

County applying for $75,000 grant for office of technology. This tells of an application to the Association of Arkansas Counties for a technology grant that would allow the Circuit Clerk's office to scan records.

Sheriff's activity reports end half year. This activity report notes that the jail housed 19 inmates or a total of 136 days in May. The jail housed 21 inmates for a total of 111 inmate days in June. The cost for outside prisoners (a term not defined) was $1,330 in May and not stated for June.

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