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Washington County Sheriff to use electronic monitoring to manage jail population

by Tom Sissom | July 8, 2020 at 7:36 a.m.
The exterior of the Washington County jail. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Sheriff Tim Helder said Tuesday he plans to expand an electronic monitoring release program to control the detainee population at the Washington County Detention Center once the covid-19 pandemic ends.

Helder said the Sheriff's Office has used a state contract program to obtain a supply of the monitoring devices. He said the Sheriff's Office will set up an in-house program, working with the county's circuit court judges and the Prosecuting Attorney to allow some non-violent pretrial detainees and people jailed for failure to appear to be released with the monitors.

Maj. Randall Denzer with the Sheriff's Office told the Quorum Court's Jails/Law Enforcement/Courts committee during Tuesday's meeting the current population at the Detention Center is divided almost evenly between pretrial detainees and others with about 200 inmates being pretrial detainees.

The detainee population at the Detention Center has been holding around 400 since a health emergency was declared for the covid-19 virus in mid-March. The Detention Center population was over 800 in February.

The Sheriff's Office has used reduced bond amounts, more use of felony citations and some electronic monitoring to reduce the jail population and a quarantine program for new detainees to minimize the risk of the covid-19 virus spreading in the facility.

The county's Personnel, Jails/Court/Law Enforcement and Finance and Budget committees all met Tuesday night via Zoom. The Jails/Court/Law Enforcement Committee began at 6 p.m. followed by the Personnel Committee and then the Finance and Budget Committee.

The Personnel and Jails committees had not met since March, before the covid-19 virus prompted a national, state and local health emergency. The Finance and Budget Committee met in June.

During the Jails Committee meeting, Stan Adelman, hired by the county last year as an ombudsman tasked with finding ways to reduce the Detention Center population, told the justices of the peace his contract has expired. Adelman said he is willing to remain in his current role, take on added responsibilities to help manage the Detention Center population or end his work with the county.

The committee took no action on Adelman's future, with several justices of the peace saying they want to wait for a final report on the county's criminal justice system that should be completed later this month. Representatives of the National Center for State Courts, which is doing the study, give the committee a brief presentation on their work Tuesday but presented no recommendations.

The committee also heard a brief presentation on a proposal to hire a company to provide email and text message notices to clients of the Public Defender's Office with the goal of reducing the frequency of those individuals failing to appear in court. No action was taken.


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