I am surprised it took more than a year for there to be any uproar regarding space in the Independence County jail.
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, jail policy changes regarding intake and retention of inmates have been popping up all over the state and nationwide.
Not only were there fewer beds available, but visitation policies were severely restricted.
It has never been more dangerous to work in a detention or correctional facility than it is right now, not only with the obviously dangerous criminal element, but with the public health risk that has invaded our way of life.
Those policies, however, didn’t keep the coronavirus from invading the state’s jails and prisons, and even the federal facilities had issues with infected inmates and staff.
Today’s article on the front page is a picture painted of what may not be desperation yet, but it seems headed in that direction if the Independence County jail can’t reopen to a larger capacity of inmates soon.
Fortunately for the Batesville Police Department, Sharp County is an option.
But space has been an issue for years, even before COVID-19.
There is an inherent lack of space to house inmates at the local and state levels, and it needs serious examination.
Policies regarding time served, and how jails house and release dangerous felons needs to change.
With inmates only needing two months of good time to get a year of credit, five-year sentences are really only 10 months.
That’s why so many are out of lock-up and back on the streets so quickly.
While public safety has been an issue for years, the pandemic has heightened the sense of urgency, heightened the anxiety, heightened the dangers of a lax criminal justice system.
To be clear, this is not a piece to bash law enforcement officers. They are doing what they can in one of the most impossible situations in our state’s and nation’s history.
While the system was in dire need of repair before 2020, it’s worse now.
Recidivism in Arkansas is at one of the highest rates in the country. To simplify, criminals have been re-offending at nearly a 50 percent clip after they are released from prison.
Isn’t it more cost effective to keep inmates in longer than it is to arrest again, put them through the court system again, which is, if you have ever been to a local court session, is also backed up beyond belief, and send them back to where they should have stayed.
The cycle is never ending.
If space is the issue, then build more facilities, invest in drug rehab, and make prison a place where people don’t want to go.
I believe Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill and Independence County Sheriff Shawn Stephens when they say offenders are out there laughing at law enforcement because they know they won’t go to jail.
That’s sad. That’s scary. And it’s wrong.
These issues were around before the COVID-19 ingredient, but now the issues are more dire, and more dangerous.
The system seems geared to benefit the criminal.
It is time to turn the tables.