PINE BLUFF -- Jefferson County jail officials are building a metal security fence around the facility in an effort to reduce the amount of contraband that makes its way inside.
Jail officials said the fence should be completed over the next few weeks. The construction follows repairs made to the facility after a summer riot involving about 80 inmates. Jefferson County sheriff's office officials said the riot caused $20,000 worth of damage.
Security concerns regarding contraband surfaced at the jail several weeks ago when officials realized that people were able to push items such as cigarettes and drugs through small cracks in the steel panels used to construct the facility, Jefferson County sheriff's office spokesman Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr. said.
"Over time, caulking and mortar that were used between the steel panels have weakened, and detainees inside the facility have been able to scrape it out, leaving gaps," Woods said.
He said inmates "fish out" the items using torn pieces of sheets or other cloth.
"You could see the light from outside through some of the gaps," Woods said.
He said the gaps in the paneling have been covered by metal sheets installed on the inside cell walls, but some inmates have started bending them and finding ways to create small cracks.
He said the fence will become "an extra level of precaution to prevent illegal items from entering the jail."
Chief Deputy Sheriff and Jail Administrator Greg Bolin said common contraband items include lighters, tobacco, marijuana and cell phones. Bolin said jail officials are also considering installing an intruder alarm.
Smuggling items into jails is an age-old practice, Ouachita County Sheriff David Norwood said.
He said contraband likely contributed to the escape of his most high-profile inmate earlier this month.
Austin Hill, who is charged with capital murder, fled a sheriff's van after returning from a hospital visit by unlocking his leg chains and running away while the jail's fence was still open, the sheriff said. Norwood said he likely had a handcuff key that was smuggled into the jail using soap or some other personal item.
Hill was later captured in Bryant and returned to the jail in Camden.
"Contraband is a real issue," Norwood said. "We crack down on it, but it's always something you battle."
Back in Pine Bluff, Norene Milton, whose son has been in and out of the Jefferson County jail several times, said she worried about him having access to drugs. She said she has heard stories about drugs being readily available inside the facility.
"He is an addict and has been to rehab several times," Milton said.
"He has problems, but no one should have access to drugs inside jail. He was locked up before and was able to buy marijuana. It's good that they are working to stop the flow of drugs inside the jail."
State Desk on 09/28/2015
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