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Washington County Quorum Court approves ARPA funds to improve county jail

By Emma Claybrook

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    WASHINGTON COUNTY, Arkansas (KHBS, KHOG) — The Washington County Quorum Court approved millions of dollars for jail improvements Thursday.

The court voted 11-4 to approve two proposals that total about $18 million.

The money is coming from the county’s budget of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said the ARPA funding proposal was in the works before voters voted down two tax proposals in November that would have helped fund jail improvements.

“I would argue that, after 43 years, we kind of know what we’re doing, and the county jails are a critical function of our criminal justice system. We need to do it responsibly. We need to run this detention center responsibly, as if it were my child that was in there or your child,” Helder said.

Helder said the money will be used to expand medical services, create additional warehousing space and expand the jail to create an area for about 230 minimum to mid-security detainees.

Opponents of using the ARPA funds to expand the jail, like Jon Comstock, said the funding should have been used to focus more on pre-trial services and to provide support to people who need it outside of a jail environment.

“The jail is not the place where you want to get your substance abuse recovery, that’s not where you want to get your medical needs met, that needs to be a triage where we get them in and out, but let’s get them in a facility outside the jail and care for their needs,” Comstock said.

ARPA funds were given to the county by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic to help different organizations and residents who were impacted by the pandemic.

Helder said he believes using ARPA funds for jail improvements is appropriate.

“If this is not a segment of our population that deserves to be represented with the COVID dollars to help them survive while they’re in this environment and to try and keep them from getting COVID or some other disease, I don’t know who else fits better,” he said.

Comstock said this is an inappropriate use of the funding.

“Let’s spend this money on things that are good for the community, healthy for the community, and let’s break this cycle of recidivism,” he said.

Helder said the quorum court could have used money from other budgets for the improvements.

The projects to improve the jail are expected to take several years to complete.

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