Expansion Project to be Presented to Benton County Justices of the Peace
BENTONVILLE – A committee is ready to present its plan to expand the Benton County jail in an effort to prevent the spread of covid-19 or a future virus.
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee will make a presentation to Justices of the Peace at the US Rescue Plan Committee meeting at 6 p.m. today.
The federal plan provides $ 350 billion for qualifying state, local, territorial and tribal governments nationwide, depending on the county.
Benton County will receive a combined $ 54 million over the next two years. The possible extension of the prison will be paid for with federal money.
The presentation will focus on the short-term solution to alleviating prison overcrowding, said Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie, who chairs the criminal justice committee. The immediate need is more space for the beds, he said.
Benton County Judge Barry Moehring said it was planned to ask justices of the peace $ 200,000 at the meeting for concept studies for the project, but said he didn’t want to talk about the budget just yet. of the expansion project.
Christie had previously said the prison would need at least 2,500 beds by 2045 due to population growth in the region. He said that is why the committee will be looking at solutions other than simple expansion.
The prison has a capacity of 667 beds. There were 669 inmates one day last week, said Lt. Shannon Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
Moehring said the US stimulus package money can be used for covid mitigation and prevention.
âThe Benton County Jail was one of the hottest places when the virus peaked last summer,â Moehring said.
The prison was not designed to handle a pandemic, he said.
The expansion project would include a new reception area where inmates could be assessed for physical and mental health issues and then be sent to appropriate areas, Moehring said. Anyone with medical problems or who test positive for the virus can be sent to the medical zone and held in a waiting room or isolation zone, he said.
The expansion has to deal with covid-19, Moehring said.
“We are looking at an expansive facility,” he said.
The new space would include multi-use areas for more flexibility in holding inmates during a pandemic, Moehring said. The plan also includes a sobering-up center and a behavioral health center, Sheriff Shawn Holloway said.
Moehring said the plan includes facilities for judges to hold virtual hearings.
Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren recommended that the expansion project include at least three zones to allow judges to hold virtual hearings from jail instead of going to jail or taking them to jail. detained in courtrooms.
“We are always tripping over each other” with circuit and district judges trying to hold hearings from prison, he said.
Karren said he plans to continue holding virtual hearings for inmates. Karren was also conducting remote and virtual hearings from prison before the pandemic.
Rogers District Judge Chris Griffin agreed with Karren. He recommended having a designated room for Karren and another for Benton County Circuit Judge Robin Green. These are the two circuit judges who handle criminal cases.
The third zone could be designated for bail hearings and district judges, Griffin said.
Griffin said he occasionally held court hearings using a tablet in the prison reservation area, which is difficult due to all the activity and noise in the area.
Holloway said he was considering seven to eight areas of the prison where judges could hold hearings with inmates. He said he believed it would avoid having to take detainees to a single court, which could help prevent the spread of a virus throughout the prison.
Holloway said a larger courtroom is needed for in-person hearings at the prison.
At its August 19 meeting, the Washington County Quorum Court went ahead spending US federal bailout money on proposals to expand its jail and juvenile justice facilities. The quorum court approved spending of $ 250,000 for each of these projects on identical 11-4 votes.