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story.lead_photo.caption Woodruff County Judge Charles Dallas, left, hands a hard hat to former county judge and former Augusta Mayor Burl Simmons prior to a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Woodruff County Jail on Jan. 18. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

— The residents of Woodruff County approved a 1-cent sales tax in August 2017 for the construction and maintenance of a new county detention facility. After more than a year of getting the plans together, along with securing financing, ground was broken for the jail on Jan. 18.

Woodruff County Sheriff Phil Reynolds said the $5.5 million facility, which is set to be complete in April 2020, will bring safety to the county. The new jail is 13,150 square feet and can house up to 40 prisoners.

“One word can basically sum it up for me, and that is safety,” Reynolds said. “It will give safety to the residents of the county and safety for the employees. It will be so much better a place for them to work and not nearly as dangerous for the dispatch and 911 operators.”

The current Woodruff County Jail was built in 1972. County Judge Charles Dallas said he had to shut the jail down for a time in 2014 because of safety concerns.

“The sheriff at the time wasn’t doing a good job of getting the inmates to clean the jail, and mold showed up,” said Dallas, who is starting his 11th year as county judge. “I had a company come in and check the mold situation. There was no black mold. Then I had another company clean the facility. We opened it back up in October 2014.”

Dallas said the current jail, which has a maximum occupancy of 23 prisoners, does not meet standards for jails as set forth by the state.

“The hallways are too narrow. … We can’t get a gurney down through there,” he said. “We got to the point where we couldn’t fix it for jail standard regulations. We asked the voters to pass a 1-cent sales tax.”

Half the tax went for construction, 3/8 toward running the jail, and 1/8 went for economic development.

The sales tax, in an election that took place Aug. 8, 2017, passed with 76 percent of the vote.

“We’re fortunate that the citizens saw fit to vote for it,” Dallas said. “It was either build a new jail or help pay someone else’s jail off, basically.”

The county floated a $5.5 million bond through Stephens Inc. in Little Rock.

Reynolds, who was first elected sheriff in November 2014, echoed the sentiments that Dallas expressed about the old facility.

“The way the old jail is set up with electrical and plumbing, it’s just trouble full time,” he said. “It’s gotten to the point where we had to get a new facility. The citizens of this county — you couldn’t ask for better support when we presented the 1-cent sales tax.”

Reynolds said there were four public meetings throughout the county in advance of the election.

“We passed it handily,” he said.

Currently, Reynolds’ office is in the Woodruff County Courthouse. That will change when the new jail opens in 2020.

“I’ll have four new offices in it,” he said. “One will be mine, another for the chief deputy, one for criminal investigation and the Arkansas State Police, and I’m not sure what I’ll put in the other one.

“It will be like the difference between daylight and dark in what we’ll be going to.”

The new jail will not have bars on the cells, Reynolds said.

“It will all be see-through glass so we can watch the inmates,” he said. “It will just be up to date.”

One feature Reynolds seemed to like was a drive-thru sally port for transporting prisoners.

“That is one thing we’ve never had, is a sally port at the old jail,” Reynolds said. “We’ll have a modern kitchen. We’ll be able to house the Act 309 work-release-program inmates and keep them separate from the others who are incarcerated.”

In addition, Reynolds said, his department will be able to keep the male and female prisoners separated safely. Inmates will also have an exercise yard on the property. At the current jail, prisoners have to cross the street to exercise.

“We’ll have an exercise yard built off the jail that will be totally enclosed,” he said. “The public won’t be able to see the inmates when they go outside for exercise.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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