Editor's note: This story follows a tour Faulkner County Justices of the Peace took of the county jail Thursday. The LCD will follow up with in-depth looks at each issue jail staff face and the need for a new jail in the coming weeks.
Earlier this week, a handful of sitting Justices of the Peace toured both Faulkner County Detention Center units to assess the quality and conditions of the county jail while also getting an understanding of how the facility is run.
"I'm grateful for the sheriff for allowing us to do this, it was a task for him and his department to interrupt their departments and schedules to do this," JP Jerry Boyer said.
JPs and other county employees met up Thursday morning in front of Unit I on Locust Avenue to get a brief overview of the types of inmates held in Faulkner County and learn what factors play a role in determining whether an inmate will be held at Unit I or Unit II as well as the struggles the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office currently faces in the number of inmates it currently houses.
Lt. Chris Reidmueller, who oversees the jail, said a major struggle FCSO faces right now is housing inmates, noting Unit I is nearing capacity and that overflow beds are now in use.
While there are currently about 60 open spaces available at Unit II, jail staff cannot transport or house Unit I inmates at the other facility. A separating factor keeping this shift from occurring is the need to separate violent and nonviolent detainees.
"The problem is the classification between violent and nonviolent. The majority of people we bring in are violent," Reidmueller said as he further explained how Unit II's current set up does not allow for inmates held at Unit I — a maximum security facility — to be housed among inmates at Unit II.
Sheriff Tim Ryals said this issue could be solved by replacing the current chain-link fences with brick and mortar between the pods at Unit II.
As JPs walked through Unit II, they observed the current set up at the facility, which was completed in 2006, separates its units where inmates are housed with chain-link fence. This current set up is not secure enough for those being held on violent charges. A solution to the overflow at Unit I would be to put up concrete barriers between these pods, while still leaving access to drinking water and bathrooms.
The fix, Ryals stated, is a temporary fix to an ongoing issue, noting the long-term fix would be to build a new facility.
"The land is here," Reidmueller said, pointing to the open space behind Unit II. The issue is money.
Boyer said while setting up brick and mortar walls in Unit II is a band-aid fix, he also realizes it is much needed.
These discussions are important, he said, noting the importance it is for Faulkner County JPs to tour county departments and get an understanding for their pressures and the issues they face.
Ryals said that while he realizes the construction of a new jail will not happen during his tenure, he would like to set the stepping stone of temporarily solving the overflow issue so that when the time comes, the adjustment will run more smoothly.