by Max Brantley
With law enforcement types beating the drum – deservedly – for a county sales tax to reopen beds at the Pulaski County Jail so that a large variety of criminals don’t have to be turned away regularly, the timing is awful on this. But ....
Those 11 desperate criminals arrested last week at the Country Club of Little Rock? They are taking up space in the County Jail that could go to dangerous criminals. These inmates are long-time club and grounds employees from south of the border who, it is alleged, didn’t have proper documentation though many of them have worked in Little Rock for years and raised families that have grown to include born-in-the-USA grandchildren/legal citizens. They not only didn’t have proper documents; some of them had allegedly fraudulent documents. That makes them subject to felony charges, not just deportation. The case grinds on with an appearance in court today.
We can argue the immigration laws and the circumstances of families shorn of solid wage earners another time For now, pity those who claim our jail needs are dire as they lock up reliable, generallye law-abiding service workers for failure to have green cards. “I can’t disagree with the premise,” County Judge Buddy Villines ruefully admits.
But there is an explanation. When the county jail was opened in 1990, and city lockups were taken off-line, one obligation had to be taken care of, Villines says. North Little Rock had a contract with the federal marshal’s service to hold federal detainees. The money was pledged to pay off bonds on the North Little Rock lockup. The county agreed to pick up the contract (it is generally lucrative, a profit center) and continue making the bond payments. The bonds still are being retired. Federal prisoners still must be accepted up to the contract limit (documents provided to me are unclear what that limit currently is). Also, the federal detainees are often truly bad customers, not beloved country club waiters. “It generally hasn’t been much of an impact, but it does impact now,” Villines said.
The contract with the feds is reviewed annually, Villines says. Meanwhile, says Villines, a contract is a contract. Let us hope rumors are unfounded that the feds have more wait staff to round up in addition to those nabbed in the original sweep.
UPDATE: We got some details from Buddy Villines.
In 1990, the county agreed to pick up the promise to supply 20 beds to the feds for $150,000 a year. The feds' needs have grown. There are currently 61 inmates in the jail, a number due to be reduced to 52 on Friday. The county gets $56 per day and has received $521,724 from the feds this year. The jail is also backed up with 128 state inmates, held at a rate of $28 per day.