The Pulaski jail report | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Pulaski jail report

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2007 at 9:25 AM

UALR has completed its task force study on public safety and the Pulaski County Jail.


Yes, the report says the sales tax needs to be raised (by a permanent quarter-cent) to expand the ability of the county to hold prisoners and to pay for alternative programs as a cost-effective ways to divert drug and other non-violent offenders to treatment rather than jail.


The 16-point list of recommendations begins with the county finance debacle. There's, first, the common-sense notion of basing annual budgets on revenue the previous year, not some imaginary number that allows deficit spending from reserves. The county also should be audited by an outside auditor annually and undergo an audit of county jobs to see where departments are overstaffed. Existing prevention, treatment and intervention programs should be evaluated for effectiveness.


The task force, chaired by retired UALR Chancellor Charles Hathaway, recommends that the current percentage of the budget now spent on the sheriff’s office and jail be set aside in a public safety fund, untouched for other purposes.


It also recommends that the sheriff’s office take over the North Little Rock holding facility or the city should close it.


A quarter-cent tax would produce about $20 million annually, or about $18 million when current city subsidies to the county ceased. This could operate more than 1,500 jail beds  in work-release, minimum security and medium/maximum security facilities. In the task force's vision, there’d also be money for alcohol/drug treatment programs, electronic monitoring programs for DUI offenders, a drug enforcement task force targeting suppliers, increases in the sheriff’s force of deputies and a new courtroom.


You don’t have to read far between lines of the report to find criticism of County Judge Buddy Villines’ (lack of) leadership and multiple failures on the part of the Quorum Court, particularly in understanding budgets and approving deficit spending that ate up a sizable reserve.


Will voters go for a tax to expand the jail and other services? A UALR survey found 61 percent support the idea. But that’s before a campaign. The last jail tax was defeated despite favorable poll results, in part by the false notion that the county spent money on the Big Dam Bridge that it could have spent on the jail.


Members of the task force think it would be a mistake to put a tax increase on a special election ballot. Turnout is key. There's barely a neighborhood immune to the appeal of taking repeat offenders -- particularly burglars -- off the streets. Better to seek support from all taxpayers than a targeted appeal before a small turnout where antis can organize readily.


The report will be on-line after 10 a.m. at UALR's website.


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