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Washington County passes ordinances giving ARPA funds to the jail

Collectively, the Washington County Budget and Finance Committee agreed to the use of nearly $20 million in ARPA funds for the jail.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS, Ark. — Three ordinances to give ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ dollars to the Washington County Jail passed in a budget and finance committee meeting. 

Tuesday night, three jail-related ordinances passed almost unanimously... Which the exception of Justice of the Peace Shawndra Washington.

"I would like to make a motion that we table this indefinitely," said Washington when discussing Ordinance 20. However, her motion failed...

Ordinance 20 would give almost $9 million in ARPA funding to add more jail beds.

"That allows us to separate inmates into smaller groups," said Washington Co. Sheriff-Elect Jay Cantrell. "So, that we don't have 14 inmates that are exposed to covid taking up a 32-bed cell."

JP Washington agrees overcrowding is an issue but doesn't think adding more beds is the solution. "The way that it needs to get done, there are two options. Create more space or decrease people."

Washington suggested Washington County use the money on pre-trial services and a mental health court instead.

"All these are a lot cheaper and a lot better use of money than building extra jail beds," said Beth Coger with the Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition.  

Ordinance 10 was also passed. it would give $750,000 in ARPA funds to help with jail maintenance, updating the jail's H-vac systems, and 185 security cameras.

"It shouldn't come from ARPA funds," Coger said. "It should come from the county general funds or county reserves."

Coger thinks the maintenance is needed. But doesn't qualify for ARPA use.

Cantrell argues the cameras will help with COVID-19 contact tracing.

Ordinance 21 would allow $10 million in ARPA funds to be allocated to the ‘American Rescue Budget’ for 2023, money the county can spend as needed.

"It's obvious how you guys are just moving money around so you can get what you want...we see what you’re doing,” said public commenter Jennifer F. 

Last month--voters rejected sales tax to fund the jail. Cantrell says the ordinances passed had nothing to do with that, as they've been planning this since September. The full quorum court is expected to vote on the ordinances on Dec. 15.

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