FAYETTEVILLE -- The Washington County Quorum Court on Thursday night established a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee and passed a resolution asking for help to tackle to address backlogs in the jail and courts.
A criminal justice system study recommended the county form a coordinating committee to develop plans and collaborate with the county justice system to help with decision making. The committee includes judges, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, Quorum Court members, victim support advocates, mental health professionals and community leaders.
Members will include circuit judges Stacey Zimmerman, Mark Lindsay, Cristi Beaumont and Joanna Taylor, County Attorney Brian Lester, Prosecutor Matt Durrett, Public Defender Denny Hyslip, Sheriff Tim Helder, Justice of the Peace Lance Johnson, District Judge William Storey, Nick Robbins from Returning Home, a community re-entry program, Mike Parker representing the state Probation Department, Frank Johnson, former Fayetteville Police Chief, Lulu Peredo, diversity director for Engage Northwest Arkansas, Dr. Laura Tyler, CEO of Ozark Guidance, and Chris Workman, Prairie Grove police chief.
The committee will meet for the first time Oct. 23.
The approval wasn't unanimous. Justice of the Peace Eva Madison questioned who selected the members of the committee and Justice of the Peace Judith Yanez said she wanted to know more about those selected.
"I'd like to know the demographics and background of each person when it comes to social justice issues," Yanez said.
County Judge Joseph Wood said he selected the members after consulting with Helder and Lindsay.
The justices of the peace also approved collaboration between the county and the National Institute of Correction, Community Services Division which, if they accept, will provide technical assistance and provide recommendations for the committee to improve the county's justice system and pre-trial services.
The group is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, under the federal Bureau of Prisons and the services they provide are free.
"They want to come in, they want to examine our situation and they want to help us out," said Justice of the Peace Patrick Deakins. "They can get started as soon as we get the application in."
Durrett the past seven months of the covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc by backing up the entire court system.
"We are drowning," Durrett said. "I'm looking for help from anyone because when all of this stops this is going to be a nightmare for all of us. The faucet is going full blast and the drain is clogged. This covid situation is killing us."
Not everybody was as ready to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"I'm all for this, but they're here to help us build a foundation and we've already established a committee that the demographics are not what we need to pull this forward in a way that will be progressive," said Yanez. "We need to move in a different direction in Washington County and what we have in that committee, the foundation that we have already established, is an echo chamber. We have a lot of work to step back and see our own biases."
Here comes the sun
Washington County will work with Today’s Energy, owned by the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, on a 2.4 megawatt solar power station in Lincoln. The Quorum Court on Thursday supported tax breaks for the project which will benefit Lincoln, it’s schools and county residents. The project will cost about $9 million to build. There will be no cost to the county.
Source: Washington County
Ron Wood can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWARDW.