West Memphis may be forced to build a new jail

WEST MEMPHIS (Evening Times) - Crittenden County may have to build a separate facility to house juveniles who have been charged as adults in order to comply with a new federal mandate.

Sheriff Mike Allen told the Quorum Court that the jail is going to need to make some significant changes in order to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

Under PREA, which was passed by Congress in 2003 and recently updated by the Obama administration, youth charged or convicted in adult court and held in adult facilities must be separated from adult inmates.

The regulations ban the housing of youth in the general adult population, prohibit contact between youth and adults in common areas, and require that youth be constantly supervised by jail staff.

The law applies to all local jails, lockups, juvenile facilities, and community confinement facilities and takes effect on August 13, 2013.

Each jail will be audited for compliance and facilities found not to be in compliance will be subject to financial penalties.

"It's something that is coming down the pike that snuck up on us," Allen said.

Allen said they had a recent visit from a jail inspector from the Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services who told them they were out of compliance with PREA.

At the time of his visit, Allen said they had four juveniles locked up in the adult section.

The jail was not cited however, because PREA has not taken effect yet.

Allen said they were in full compliance with Arkansas law which allows juveniles under 18 who are charged as adults to be housed in the adult side of the jail.

"The state inspector kind of jumped the gun," Allen said. "He thought he was going to catch us disobeying the law. But we found out we were within the law and what Arkansas law said we were supposed to do by housing those individuals in the right spot."

The county may be in trouble meeting those new standards though when August 13 rolls around.

"The way it stands we will no longer be able to house those juveniles on the adult side, and we may not be able to house them on the juvenile side," Allen said. "It is something that is going to cost the state of Arkansas a lot of money because we are not the only one in the state with this particular problem."

Allen said the county may have to build some type of holding facility.

"We're going to try and figure out where this puts us with the PREA Act," Allen said. "But it is something the federal government did and mandates that were put on us that we may have to build a section of the jail and have to man it just for those individuals. Right now we would have to shut down basically half of our juvenile side of the jail to build a sight and sound separator."

Justice Vickie Robertson suggested Allen talk to other sheriff's in the region about possibly sharing the cost of a facility.

"If it is not enough to justify having a staff around the clock, maybe you could all do a regional facility for juveniles," Robertson said.

Allen said there is going to be a lot of discussion on PREA in the coming months.

"This is a federal law and it is going to affect everyone," Allen said. "Maybe we could come together and build a regional facility for those individuals until their court dates. I'm going to try and stay on top of this. But we're going to have to come up with something."

Click here for more news from the Evening Times of Crittenden County.