FAYETTEVILLE -- Stan Adelman says he'll make no promises or predictions about finding ways to relieve crowding at the Washington County jail.
"I'm coming into that with no predisposition at all," Adelman said. "The sheriff's office has said they're letting people out now, and I take them at their word. I understand the police are writing citations instead of taking people to the jail. There's no villains. There's no bad guys."
Washington County hired Adelman as an ombudsman to work with local law enforcement agencies and the judicial system to reduce crowding at the jail. He's a lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
He has had some preliminary discussions with the sheriff's office, prosecutor Matt Durrett, the public defender's office, and circuit court judges, but won't begin work in earnest until after Labor Day, he said.
Adelman worked with the county about 20 years ago to reduce the jail population while officials considered plans for a new jail.
The old jail, on College Avenue in downtown Fayetteville, opened in 1988 and was built to hold 88 prisoners, according to Maj. Randall Denzer with the sheriff's office. Denzer said that jail was expanded to house about 240 inmates. The number of prisoners was outgrowing the space, and Adelman's two-year effort helped keep the population within the limit of the facility, he said.
"At that time, just before we left, we were pushing 300 inmates," Denzer said. The county opened the 710-bed jail on the south edge of town in 2005.
Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said changes in the laws gave the sheriff's office more latitude to release detainees, with that number reaching 200 a month recently. Still, the population at the jail has been steadily increasing and regularly exceeds its capacity.
Denzer said between 70 and 100 detainees have slept on the floor at the jail while waiting for bed space.
He said the jail routinely houses about 400 pretrial detainees. Adelman was hired to evaluate those prisoners and see whether they are suitable candidates for release on their own recognizance, on reduced bail amounts or under other conditions approved by the courts. Adelman will make recommendations but it is up to the sheriff, prosecutor and judges to evaluate those recommendations and make a decision on each detainee.
Adelman said he will get reports on a prisoner's charges and criminal history, if any, from the sheriff's office and the courts. He and a staff of law students will interview detainees who might be considered for release. He'll look at lowering or eliminating the bail for some detainees, along with options such as house arrest or ankle monitors, he said.
Adelman said his first stint as ombudsman was "pretty successful" in freeing up space at the jail, although no records are available. He said he expects to find detainees who can and should be released but can't speculate on the numbers.
"We knew then, we know now, we can't help everybody," Adelman said "The criteria will be the same. These are not dangerous felons. These are people who don't appear to be a flight risk. Not everyone in jail for failure to appear is a flight risk. Most FTAs are at home. They didn't go to court because they are scared or they got drunk. They had an accident or some injury. Our target population doesn't need to be in jail."
Sheriff Tim Helder said he hopes Adelman can find detainees who can be released, but he's doubtful the number will be large enough to materially affect the crowding.
Helder said he and his staff have monitored the situation at the jail over the past 15 years as the area population increased. That growth far exceeded the population projections used to design and build the jail.
He said an expansion is needed and inevitable.
"I remain convinced we're doing everything we can to control our population at the jail," Helder said. "I'm comfortable with Stan coming on board. I'm willing to listen to any new ideas. Maybe someone will come up with something we've never thought about. But I remain convinced an expansion is needed, and we need to get off dead center and push the 'go' button."
Metro on 08/19/2019
Print Headline: Crowded jail calls for answers