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Jail timeline

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A chronology of Pulaski County Jail woes.

The Little Rock jail, packed with a backlog of prisoners waiting for room at the 200-bed county jail, reaches a crisis level after a series of prisoner fights and mattress fires. The county lockup is closely monitored by a 1985 consent decree that sets a firm cap on its population. Prisoners are accepted on an appointment basis, and those who don’t fit are frequently released. Cities, led by then-Little Rock Mayor Buddy Villines, sue the county for failing to hold its own prisoners. By year’s end, a push for a regional jail begins.

Feb. 15: A 20-year agreement for the operation and construction of an expanded countywide jail is reached by Pulaski County and its five largest cities. Mayors from Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sherwood and Maumelle agree that each city will pay the county about what they paid to run city jails, with incremental increases every five years. The county agrees to pay remaining costs.

Feb. 20: Pulaski County voters approve a temporary tax, starting April 1, to fund the expansion of the county jail from 200 to 800 beds, but not operation costs.

March 31: One-year collection of the penny sales tax raises $34 million for the jail.

Sept. 10: City mayors and now-County Judge Villines, sign an amendment to their original interlocal agreement, settling a lawsuit over money owed for county prisoners housed in city jails. The county agrees to deposit $3.2 million in a trust fund that is to be used, with approval of the cities, for jail operations in the next three years.

Aug. 1: The regional jail, capacity 656, opens and city jails are emptied with a few snags. The lockup surpasses its official capacity within a month.

Jan. 1: Sheriff Randy Johnson takes office, replacing Carroll Gravett.

April: A warehouse work center for misdemeanor prisoners opens with 170 new beds. Several months later, renovation on the old county jail is complete and capacity totals 1,043.

Aug. 23: The Quorum Court passes a resolution asking Judge Villines to renegotiate the interlocal jail agreement.

Sept. 12: Villines sends another round of letters to mayors asking them to maintain increased jail funding in 1997.

Dec. 19: The Quorum Court passes another resolution asking Villines to renegotiate jail agreement with cities.

Nov. 4: In a special election, voters squash a proposal for a countywide 1/4 percent sales tax for jail operations.

Jan. 28: A countywide citizens task force is created. Ten months later, the group recommends that Villines to renegotiate the interlocal agreement. The group also supports more prevention and drug treatment programs, state legislative action and further consideration of a 1/4 percent sales tax.

Regional Jail cost reaches $14.4 million, almost double the first-year cost in 1994.

Sept. 3: In response to inmate counts more than 100 above capacity, Prosecutor Larry Jegley issues what is known as the A, B, I list. This authorizes jail officials to cite and release prisoners with certain charges.

March 29: The county spends nearly all of the remaining jail tax money — about $450,000 — to construct about 80 new beds at the warehouse work center.

April 26: The Quorum Court, with a contribution from cities, funds vacant jailer positions, allowing 80 new work center beds to open. Though the jail has held more prisoners through the years, official capacity reaches its peak of 1,125 beds.

Nov. 5: Voters reject the county’s second attempt for 1/4 percent jail sales tax. Many blame competing tax proposals during the general election. Later that month, the 160-bed old jail and the Northside book-in facility are closed by budget cuts.

April 25: The Quorum Court dips into its general fund and appropriates anticipated revenue from state prisoner reimbursements to give countywide raises and to fund 13 new jailer salaries. The jail beds closed in November 2002 reopen and capacity returns to 1,125.

Oct. 25: In an effort to balance the county’s 2006 budget, the Quorum Court realizes its nearly $7 million shortfall and prepares to hack $3.1 million from the jail’s budget. The budget cut will eliminate dozens of jailers’ jobs and prompts the closure of 325 jail beds. The day after capacity drops to 800 beds, about 50 misdemeanor convicts are set free.

Nov. 29: After a month of negotiations and a closed-door meeting, five mayors and the county judge pledge more than $1 million to fund an additional 80 jail beds and a work release program in 2006. Capacity is set at 880.

Regional Jail Cost: $19 million (budgeted)
Capacity: 880 prisoners

March 8: After prompting from a citizens group, a countywide task force, which includes mayors of all cities, the county judge and about 15 community and business leaders, meets for the first of six public meetings. Their mission is to evaluate a need for more jail beds and to propose a funding solution.

May 31: Sheriff Johnson is ordered to appear before Little Rock Traffic Court Judge Vic Fleming to show cause, if any, why he is not in contempt of court for refusing to receive a prisoner accused of traffic violations. The sheriff appears in court, but the issue is moot when the prisoner posts a $10,000 bond.

June: With the Little Rock homicide rate running near a record rate, police point a finger at the 880-bed jail for general crime woes. Since January, the lockup has opened to non-violent prisoners fewer than 12 days.

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