Part Two of Two
Limited jail space impacts crime in the community
By JESSIE SMITH
LR News Contributor
With the Sept. 10 election around the corner and the sales tax to fund a new jail up for vote, the Little River County jail may close in December or receive the necessary funding to undergo construction of a new building. The current jail affects the number of outstanding warrants, crime and the community.
As of Aug. 23, Little River County has 7,631 outstanding misdemeanor warrants, according to District Court Clerk Kristie Lewis. In comparison, Hempstead County has 13,725 outstanding warrants as of Sept. 3, according to District Clerk Sherri Rateliff.
Per the U.S. Census Bureau, Little River County has a population of 12,326 people as of 2018, and Hempstead County has a population of 21,741 people.With a 24-bed jail without the capacity to house women, Sheriff Bobby Walraven said individuals have learned that the police do not have a place to put them after arrest.
If someone receives a speeding ticket and does not go to the court date, Walraven said the police serve a failure-to-appear warrant and another court date. If the individual attends this court date, the judge will likely issue a fine.“
You don’t have the money so you’re in contempt because you haven’t paid your fine,” Walraven said. “There’s another warrant issued for you. Then you come back to court, and it’s just a never-ending cycle. They’re just continuously revolving because they know we don’t have a place to put them.”
There is also a financial component to the outstanding misdemeanor warrants. The size of the fine depends on the citation, and for state citations, much of the money goes to the state, but citations for local ordinances offers more money to the county.
“I’m sure there’s none of these warrants out there for less than a couple of hundred dollars,” Walraven said. “So you’re talking about a large sum, and it would benefit the county to be able to collect that.”While there are 7,631 outstanding misdemeanor warrants, there are no outstanding felony warrants as of Aug. 29, according to Circuit Clerk Lauren Abney.
County Judge Mike Cranford said felony warrants are handled a little differently than misdemeanor warrants.“Felony warrants are more important because you have to serve those,” Cranford said.
However, Cranford said that not being able to serve misdemeanor warrants takes away the leverage to motivate people to pay their fines. “They’re not afraid of going to jail because they know [there isn’t] a place to put them,” Cranford said.
Since Little River County borders two states, Walraven said they arrest people who live outside the county as well. “People from Texarkana are coming over here and shoplifting here because Texarkana has jail space,” Walraven said.
The limited jail space creates hardship for everyone, according to Cranford. “It creates an environment where the criminals know that we’re limited on manpower, and they’re not as subjective to the law in some respects,” Cranford said.
“They think that they can, you know, get away with murder.” According to Walraven, a jail is a tool. “It’s just like anything for a carpenter or any professional field,” Walraven said. “It’s a tool. When you take that away, then you can’t do the job.”
“We have a safe community, but if we don’t have … a penal system or a system where we can [take] criminals off the street, then you’re going to have chaos,” Cranford said. “It may not happen over night, but over the course of time, it just gets worse and worse and worse.”
According to Cranford, most criminals do not start out as hardened criminals, and he said they can break the cycle if they stop them before they reach the hardened criminal level.Walraven said he would like to start a drug treatment program within Little River County.
“We arrest somebody for drugs, and we send them to the state penitentiary,” Walraven said. “The state penitentiary sends me a professional criminal back, not a rehabilitated criminal. I believe that if you’re going to rehabilitate or have any type of drug programs, in order for it to work, it’s going to be down on a local level, not on a state level.”
Walraven has spoken to Robert Gentry, sheriff of Sevier County, since Sevier County has started a drug treatment program within their jail. Walraven is also looking into GED programs for the jail. “Anything we can do,” Walraven said.
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