Unit I

As local police cite-and-release the majority of offenders as opposed to taking them to jail amid coronavirus concerns, the Faulkner County Detention Center has seen a reduction in its population and is not overcrowded.

April statistics show that inmate populations at both Faulkner County Detention Center units were under capacity with less than 200 inmates collectively housed at Unit I and Unit II.

The average headcount for Unit I last month was 93. The 28-year-old building, located on Locust Street in downtown Conway, is the county’s maximum-security unit.

Unit I houses the county’s most violent offenders and was built to house 118 inmates in the adult portion of the facility while the juvenile center can house up to 16 juvenile offenders on a separate side of the facility. When the Log Cabin Democrat toured the detention center in February 2019, there were more than 150 adult inmates housed in Unit I.

In February 2020, the maximum-security unit housed 115 inmates.

The sheriff’s office has worked to tackle overcrowding issues at Unit I for years. Sheriff Tim Ryals has previously told the Log Cabin that combating overcrowding and repairing the deteriorating structure of the nearly 30-year-old building are among the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office’s top priorities.

In regards to total population, the FCDC has been under capacity since 2006 when Unit II opened, Cpt. Chris Riedmueller, who oversees the jail, said. However, the FCDC’s maximum-security unit has battled with overcrowding issues in recent years.

“Populations have been at or above capacity in individual housing units multiple times since Unit II opened due to operational capacity challenges and at times, a lack of appropriate space for the classification levels needed,” Riedmueller said. “The largest challenge we consistently face is at the maximum security facility (Unit I), which has a low number of available beds.”

Since the sheriff’s office imposed health and safety procedures following the global COVID-19 pandemic, the FCDC has noticed a hefty reduction in the number of inmates at both detention centers – Unit I on Locust Street and Unit II on South German Lane in Conway.

Recent statistics released by the sheriff’s office show that detention numbers in Faulkner County are the lowest they’ve been in the past decade.

“Overall, population wise, we are currently at as low of numbers as can be recalled in the past 10-12 years, but this is due in large part to the precautions that the criminal justice system is taking in regards to COVID-19,” Riedmueller told the Log Cabin.

In January, there were 128 inmates at Unit I while Unit II had 174 – 123 men and 51 women.

Though there was a reduction in the number of inmates at Unit I in February from the month prior, Unit II saw an increase in its overall population. Statistics show that in February, there were 115 inmates housed at Unit I and 197 (139 men and 58 women) at Unit II.

In March, the headcount at Unit I was still at 115 and Unit II had 197 detainees (132 men and 65 women).

In April, numbers at both facilities dropped.

According to the statistics the sheriff’s office released earlier this week, there were 93 inmates at Unit I last month with 96 (62 men and 34 women) at Unit II.

Though numbers were already considered low at the beginning of 2020, jail administrators said the reduction in the FCDC’s population has cut down operational costs and allowed staff to use that money toward personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

“The numbers reflected in January, February and early March are lower than annual averages for a variety of reasons. Typically the winter months are the lowest populations in the jail as they are the valley in the cycle,” Riedmueller said, adding that the FCSO has also worked with the Arkansas Department of Corrections to send over inmates who have been convicted and sentenced to prison. “We have also continued to work with the state corrections system to keep our sentenced inmate list as low as possible.”

Though public concern regarding COVID-19 spreading within the Faulkner County jail has grown after the pandemic hit Arkansas prisons and other jails in the state, there were no reported cases among FCDC inmates or jail staff as of Friday.

Among the safety protocols imposed to prevent the coronavirus making its way into the county jail, the sheriff has required anyone entering the facility to have their temperature taken and complete a questionnaire to determine if they are a health risk.

In-person visitations were suspended and bond agents have also been restricted from going inside the jail.

Lowering the inmate population during the coronavirus pandemic was possible thanks to the efforts of local law enforcement agencies and court officials, Riedmueller said.

“We have asked local agencies to cite and release with court dates when possible,” he said, adding that “the courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys have [also] worked diligently to reduce the population, either by resolving cases or agreeing to reduce bonds.”

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net

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