Poinsett County officials mull solutions to troubled jail

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HARRISBURG, Ark. — Poinsett County Jail Administrator Steve Rorex showed administrators a 500-pound entrance door that previously fell on him, during a recent tour by the county’s public safety advisory panel.

“It took all I had to push it off me,” he said.

The door to the visitation area is completely gone, Rorex noted.

“The door to the visitation area fell off,” he told The Jonesboro Sun. “The door works on a pin system, and the pin system malfunctioned.”

Rorex said repairing the issue is not just a simple matter of ordering a part.

“These parts are obsolete. The company went out of business before the jail was completed,” he said.

In fact, many components of the Poinsett County Jail are obsolete or malfunctioning.

The Poinsett County Detention Center’s current deficiencies date back to the time it was first built, Sheriff Kevin Molder said.

He said everything was obsolete when it was put in, and that he thinks the county can repair the jail for just under $2 million.

The cost of a new jail would cost the county an estimated $16 million.

When the detention center failed certain areas of the state’s Jail Standards inspection in May, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration review committee recommended that Poinsett County form an advisory committee to find solutions.

The Poinsett County Public Safety Advisory Panel recently met at the detention center to review issues and look for possible answers along with Jail Standards representative Larry King, who offered his services to the committee.

Poinsett County is not the only county having issues, Molder said. Several counties have increased tax rates to update current facilities or construct new ones.

King said Walnut Ridge had a similar issue as Poinsett County is now facing.

“We passed a sales tax and collected it before we built. I invite you all to come (to) tour the facility and look at the building they said we couldn’t build. It’s state of the art,” King said.

Poinsett County will hold a special election Aug. 13 to ask county residents to vote for a half-cent sales tax increase.

“That would generate an estimated $1,267,859 per year,” King said.

“Our issue is we are holding more people than any of those counties,” Molder said. “We have 95 to 105 inmates any given day.”

He took the entire safety advisory panel members on a tour of the facility to show the many repairs that need to be made.

“We need to be able to see the problems we have and the issues that need to be addressed,” he said.

When a person first enters the jail they might think it is a nice place, but once the inside is seen, Molder said it becomes apparent there are a lot of problems.

Molder informed the panel the intercoms do not work in the visitation area, and those visiting inmates have to yell through the windows.

“These windows were designed for families to be able to speak to inmates through the glass,” he said.

Openings were originally at the bottom of the window panes, Molder said.

“We had to silicone (coat) those windows to prevent contraband from being passed through,” he said.

Molder said they are looking at alternative options for visitation.

“We are working on a video system,” he said.

Other issues with the detention center include lighting issues, the radio system for dispatchers and the E-911 system.

Plumbing is also an issue.

“The pipe collapsed under the drain, and we had to bust up the concrete,” Molder said.

The cost of that repair was $38,500. Molder said they are still having plumbing issues.

“I think we just had another pipe bust,” he said.

As the tour continued, Molder showed the condition of the breaker box that controlled the intercom systems, power locks on the doors and the intercom system.

Rorex said they can’t find an electrician to work on the issue.

“As repairs have been made, this is what it looks like,” he said opening the door to a tangled mess of wires and caps.

“The last electrician that came in said ‘I’m not touching that,’” Rorex said.

Issues with the heating and cooling system include rusted and rotted ductwork and an outdated regulation system, which costs the county $7,000 to $8,000 per month in electricity bills.

The county plans to switch from a pneumatic system to a digital temperature regulation system. The detention center’s water and gas bills averages between $7,000 and $11,000.

The jail’s air conditioning system was outdated when contractors installed it, Poinsett County Justice of the Peace Randy Jones said.

The public safety advisory panel convened in the courtroom to discuss options after the jail tour.

“We have to have a solution by November,” Molder said.

Weiner Mayor Mike Frasier said Poinsett County residents have questioned him about jail repairs issues.

“I keep getting asked why wasn’t it done when it was small stuff,” Frasier said.

The panel’s next meeting will be held at 2 p.m. July 11 in the courtroom at the detention center.

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