Jail expansion background

WHAT OCCURRED: On Monday night 08/09/21 during the Jail/LE committee of the Washington county quorum court, Sheriff Helder gave what was supposed to be an update on COVID in the jail, which quickly turned into a full blown proposal to expand the jail an additional 200+ beds as well as other areas of the jail at a cost to taxpayers of $20mm+.  The Sheriff was enthusiastically received by the committee JPs, who did not blink an eye at the proposed expense and instead said “This is a no-brainer” (Patrick Deakins, 33:40).  Immediately following the Sheriff’s presentation, the Jail/LE committee voted to recommend passage of an ordinance sponsored by JP Lance Johnson to use $250k of the American Rescue monies to seek architectural services for renderings of the new jail.  That ordinance has been presented to and recommended for passage by the Finance and Budget committee on Tue 08/10/21.  Then, the final step to actually appropriate the $250k Rescue money passed in full Quorum Court on Thursday, 08/19/21.  What happens now is the RFQ/RFP for the architecture.  This can still be stopped by asking the court to PAUSE and look at all the options to spend the COVID rescue monies. Judge Wood committed to these meetings, let’s ask for them to be scheduled before any spending takes place.

How YOU can help

EMAIL OR CALL JPS AND SHERIFF:  Reach out to anyone you know in the Washington county community and let them know this is happening and to contact their JPs and the Sheriff to tell them this is not the way to invest in our community.  Ask JPs to PAUSE until a full plan and discussion can be made for the American Rescue money and the rules are finalized on how the monies can be used.  Benton County’s Quorum Court just announced it will hold multiple meetings to discuss use of the Rescue money, during which the JPs will be presented with “a methodical plan to consider projects that are possible and would benefit the citizens of our county that fit into the parameters of the rules of the program.”  Justice of the Peace Ken Farmer of Rogers:  "We will be able to hear proposals and ideas without the pressure of an immediate decision," he said. "We will have time to decide what is best for us. I think we should listen to all ideas before we make a final decision." We need Washington Co to follow Benton County’s lead in approaching how to spend this money - ask JPs to PAUSE, and to have an organized, thorough, and transparent process to decide how the money should be spent.

Ask to explore these areas:

  • Assistance to households includes, but is not limited to: food assistance; rent, mortgage, or utility assistance; counseling and legal aid to prevent eviction or homelessness; cash assistance; emergency assistance for burials, home repairs, weatherization, or other needs; internet access or digital literacy assistance; or job training to address negative economic or public health impacts experienced due to a worker’s occupation or level of training.

  • Assistance to small business and non-profits includes, but is not limited to: Loans or grants to mitigate financial hardship such as declines in revenues or impacts of periods of business closure, for example by supporting payroll and benefits costs, costs to retain employees, mortgage, rent, or utilities costs, andother operating costs;

•  Loans, grants, or in-kind assistance to implement COVID-19 prevention or mitigation tactics, such as physical plant changes to enable social distancing, enhanced cleaning efforts, barriers or partitions, or COVID-19 vaccination, testing, or contact tracing programs; and

•  Technical assistance, counseling, or other services to assist with business planning needs

  • Addressing health disparities and the social determinants of health, including: community health workers, public benefits navigators, remediation of lead paint or other lead hazards, and community violence intervention programs; 

  • Building stronger neighborhoods and communities, including: supportive housing and other services for individuals experiencing homelessness, development of affordable housing, and housing vouchers and assistance relocating to neighborhoods with higher levels of economic opportunity; 

  • Addressing educational disparities exacerbated by COVID-19, including: early learning services, increasing resources for high-poverty school districts, educational services like tutoring or afterschool programs, and supports for students’ social, emotional, and mental health needs; and 

• Promoting healthy childhood environments, including: child care, home visiting programs for families with young children, and enhanced services for child welfare-involved families and foster youth.

Email Script & Recipients

Dear ________, I urge you to PAUSE, and to not move forward with any spending for new construction analysis and planning for an expansion of the Washington County Detention Center until full diligence is done on the full array of community needs that can be met with these monies.  The Rescue Plan has broad applicability and represents a possibility for a vast number of varied services and supports to be put in place to help create stability for our entire community, which would directly impact the jail population - expanding health care options, including substance use and mental health care, community-based treatment programs to reduce the likelihood that people with substance use or mental health problems will be arrested, reopening the CSU, community-based case management and mentoring services, public transportation services to important public buildings like courthouses and libraries, social workers in the public defender’s office to support people with pending criminal cases, job training services, wifi expansion, legal aid services, and these are just a very few of the many options we have as a County.  Our neighbors in Benton County are planning an organized, thorough, and transparent process to decide how the Rescue money should be invested in their county.  Washington County should absolutely do the same.