Necessary county infrastructure

opinion by Maylon Rice

Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

When communities talk about progress, elected officials often talk about infrastructure.

More likely than not, a layperson equates the term “infrastructure” with roads and  parks. Mayors talk about city streets, shopping districts, parks and schools. County judges talk about roads and bridges.

Judges and mayors talk about water/sewer/utility lines and industrial parks for future growth of the area’s business/manufacturing community.

Seems like the only part of the public infrastructure missing or seldom talked about comes directly from the law enforcement community. Infrastructure in a growing, progressive community also includes an adequate courts system and, yes, we almost hate to say it, a jail.

Crawford County folks for years, nearly a decade, have struggled with a part of their county infrastructure that’s just too small for current needs. And that is the Crawford County jail.

No doubt the county finds it hard to talk about the high cost – estimated at $20 million – of building a jail that will meet their current and future needs. But as Crawford County grows (and it is growing), a new and bigger jail is a necessary conversation to have, and a need that demands to be met.

Operating a jail facility that is too small is more costly to taxpayers and has more risk liability than Crawford County should have exposure to in today’s litigious society. A jail that is constantly on some “state inspection list” or in danger of being declared inadequate and closed down by the courts, could create a sudden and hard hit for county tax coffers. An inadequate facility also causes a rise in frivolous, yet costly inmate lawsuits and places undue pressure on the scant resources of law enforcement officials at all levels – city, county and state.

These agencies must provide adequate and necessary jail services for that vital part of the overall courts and legal infrastructure of the county.

No one wants the new jail to be a country club or a Taj Mahal. But no one wants their law enforcement officers shining the seat of their pants on state or federal court benches while being sued for millions of dollars over the daily headcount of inmates in the jail.

Such an adverse legal outcome may prove to be a huge payday for some aggrieved inmate, formerly house in an outdated, unsafe or unsanitary jail facility. And the taxpayers will pay and pay and pay on these types of lawsuits until an adequate, safe, controlled and secure facility is built.

Let’s face it, real estate agents don’t brag on the adequacy or capacity of the county jail to prospective home buyers. The county jail is not on the Lion’s or Rotary Clubs community tour for a prospective business looking to relocate.

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But it is a proven fact that an adequate courts and jail complex can solve a lot of headaches. It is also proven that capable men and women who work in law enforcement stay longer and perform their tasks professionally when adequate investment is made in their communities with detention facilities that are safe, secure and adequate to meet their needs today and into the future.

These are just some things to think about as all the talk about a new jail is being debated for Crawford County. Adequate infrastructure is needed for communities to grow and prosper, and, again, that includes a jail.

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