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story.lead_photo.caption The Benton County Sheriff's Office in Bentonville.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County sheriff's office officials are developing a plan to address a growing jail population.

"We are turning away people -- nonviolent misdemeanors," said Jeremy Guyll, the jail captain. "We are often pushing the maximum number of inmates."

The maximum number is 669, but that doesn't mean every bed is occupied. Some must remain empty. One inmate may be held in a two-person cell for his own protection or for disciplinary reasons, Guyll said.

There were 631 inmates in the jail May 18 and 641 the next day.

Guyll believes the county is a few years from needing another pod, which is a housing system for jails.

An attached pod to expand the jail is probably the most expensive option, Guyll said. If the county builds one, he said, it should build for a large number, such as 400 inmates. A larger pod would accommodate the population growth for a decade or more, he said.

Sgt. Shannon Jenkins, a spokesman for the Benton County sheriff's office, said building a jail and offices in Crawford County cost $20 million. The jail opened in November 2016.

Another option is a mobile pod, which some jails across the country are using instead of constructing space.

Guyll said that if the jail population continues to grow each year by 7%, he believes the county will need to expand the jail or use the mobile pods.

"We can use one right now," he said.

Guyll said the mobile pods would be put together at the sheriff's office. The pods are constructed by placing semitrailers side by side and fusing them into one housing facility.

Bob Bersi, a major with the sheriff's office, said officials are in the early stages of gathering information to present the Quorum Court. He said Sheriff Shawn Holloway also wants to tour a jail using temporary pods.

The Decatur County sheriff's office in Indiana, with a population about a tenth the size of Benton County, put up two mobile pods for about $2 million. The pods are separated and have a total of 48 beds -- 24 for men and 24 for women, Decatur County Sheriff Dave Durant said.

The pods are like puzzle pieces outfitted for a jail, said Chris Grabosky, the project manager for site developer Maxwell Construction.

"You bring them to the site, set them in place, plug them in, and there you are -- housing for 48 extra inmates," Grabosky told Indiana's Greensburg Daily News.

A control room sits between the two pods, and everything from medicine to meals is dispensed through it.

Decatur County is building a $23 million, 246-bed jail that should open in June 2020.

The mobile pods are sturdy, Durant said, adding that it's the highest-rated structure in the county for tornado safety.

"They are a 50-year structure," he said of the mobile pods. "They're very well-built. I think you have this perception until you see them -- it's some sort of crappy, plastic deal. But it's a neat concept. I don't know if it is the way of the future, but it is a way."

One sheriff's office about a two-hour drive from Benton County is housing inmates in a pod constructed with six 52-foot semitrailers.

The Greene County sheriff's office in Springfield, Mo., started housing 108 men in the so-called trailer jail more than a year ago, according to the Springfield News-Leader. The trailers provide temporary relief from overcrowding while the county works toward a jail expansion.

The Benton County sheriff's office uses home monitors and is working with judges to decrease the inmate population, Guyll said.

Jenkins said the sheriff's office twice recently moved inmates to another facility to ease crowding.

Washington County is also faced with overcrowding in its jail.

Sheriff Tim Helder proposed adding a 500-bed pod to the jail, along with a 100-bed barracks for misdemeanor offenders. A bond issue would raise the money needed to build the additions, with initial estimates putting the cost at $38 million. The bonds would be paid for by a half-percentage-point sales tax increase.

The jail expansion and the sales tax increase would require voter approval. The tax increase would bring in about $20 million a year, according to officials. The sales tax to pay for the bond issue would expire when enough money has been collected to cover the costs.

Helder is also asking for an additional quarter-percentage-point sales tax increase for jail maintenance and operations expenses. The county already collects a 0.25% sales tax for the jail.

Barry Moehring, county judge of Benton County, said Holloway is doing a good job looking at alternatives.

"It's inevitable that the jail will have to be expanded with the growth we have in this county," he said. "These are not cheap buildings. Nothing has been proposed for dealing with it during the short term."

Jenkins said there have been discussions but no formal plans to visit a jail using the mobile pods.

Metro on 05/28/2019

Print Headline: Benton County looks at ideas to expand jail

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