When sheriff’s deputies in Cleveland County take a drunk to jail, there’s a single, peach-colored holding cell behind the century-old county courthouse where they can keep him to sober up.
If that cell is full, Sheriff Jack Rodgers says his only options are release, or paying to have the inebriated person sent outside his rural county to another jail that will hold him for a few hours.
Such limitations on jail space are why Rodgers and officials in several other counties in the southeast Arkansas timberlands say they’re interested in building a new kind of regional jail — operated by a private company and filled with mostly state prisoners.
The envisioned 600-bed facility would house mostly state Department of Correction inmates, officials said last week, with a certain number of beds reserved for each of the participating counties.
But the officials stressed the preliminary nature of their talks, noting the lack of any official agreement among the counties, state or any private contractor.
County judges and sheriffs from five counties — Drew, Bradley, Lincoln, Chicot and Cleveland — as well as local lawmakers, met privately in Monticello on Thursday to decide “who’s in, who’s out,” said Drew County Judge Robert Akin.
Still, the meeting ended without a firm commitment to form a group to negotiate a contract. So far, two of the five counties want to move forward with the idea, but they need a third.
Despite the lack of a formal commitment, other aspects of the project are moving ahead. County officials, including…
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