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State: Independence County Jail needs more space, jailers

The Independence County Jail needs more space and more jailers, according to a state jail standards official.

Sterling Penix, coordinator for the Arkansas Correctional Review Office, appeared before the Independence County Quorum Court Monday and answered questions about the jail’s future.

Also present at the meeting was Shawna Gay of Southside, a member of the Criminal Detention Facility Review Committee for Judicial District 16.

Asked what were the most critical deficiencies at the jail, Penix said the jail needs more space and additional staffing. He said it often holds more inmates than it has cell space. He also said that at times there is only one floor officer on duty with 118 inmates.

The jail also does not have enough jailers to fill in while others undergo training. There also needs to be enough staffing to effectively evacuate the jail in case of an emergency.

Female inmates are being held in jails outside the county because of the lack of female guards. Sheriff Shawn Stephens has said the jail has difficulty hiring and retaining jailers, both male and female, because of the low pay. The county has lost many jailers to other jails and state prison units where they can get higher pay.

Penix said his office is asking for a formal action plan from the county in 2019. He suggested the county bring in an expert to help come up with the plan. He said they could request one from the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Correction or hire one from a private firm.

The JPs voted to contact the DOJ about a consultant as soon as possible.

Reporting by Bob Qualls


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