Phillips County Judge Clark Hall and local law enforcement officers lined the steps in the great hall of the historic county courthouse Friday to solicit support for the construction of a brand new jail facility. The old jail was shut down back in 2013 when in failed an inspection by a state Department of Corrections team. Several serious violations were uncovered during that inspection.

Phillips County Judge Clark Hall and local law enforcement officers lined the steps in the great hall of the historic county courthouse Friday to solicit support for the construction of a brand new jail facility. The old jail was shut down back in 2013 when in failed an inspection by a state Department of Corrections team. Several serious violations were uncovered during that inspection.

“A new jail is something that many residents have expressed their opinion that there is a dire need,” commented Hall.

Hall, Phillips County JPs and law enforcement officials are asking voters to rededicate the 1-cent sales tax that was once referred to as the “Harbor Tax.” Hall stressed there is no new tax involved but voters must give their approval.

According to Hall, the new jail would be built “from the ground up” and would be a state-of-the-art building meeting all state and federal guidelines. It would be able to house up to 100 adult inmates. Hall went on to say that the county held a property option on the old former John Deere center located on the Highway 49 Bypass just across from the Helena Regional Medical Center.

“We need concerned citizens like those attending here today to get behind this and make it become a reality,” stated Hall.

Between 50 and 75 people were on hand for the announcement.

To get the issue on a ballot will require a petition bearing 1,200 signatures of registered voters in the county. Hall noted that 5/8 of the 1-cent sales tax would go toward the construction and operation of the jail. A total of 3/8 of a cent would be divided among the law enforcement agencies in the incorporated communities in Phillips County.

Hall said he hopes that the completed petitions will be presented to the Quorum Court at their next regular monthly session in September.

Sheriff Neal Byrd said there were numerous reasons why this jail should be built. According to his figures, the county spends roughly $800,000 transporting prisoners to jail and court appearances as well as feeding them and providing needed health care services. Some of Phillips County's prisoners are currently jailed as far away as Calico Rock.

“Transferring these prisoners takes away from our manpower here in Phillips County,” reported Byrd. “Recently, we had to send deputies to pick up 15 prisoner at various locations for court appearances. This is taking way too much of our time. There is no overtime pay available.”

Byrd noted that refurbishing the old jail would not be practical.

“It would probably be out of compliance in 10 years,” he stressed.

“The way we are operating now, the county is losing some serious money,” Byrd continued. “Building this jail makes sense. It will bring stability and create jobs in our community and county.”

Helena-West Helena Police Chief James Smith was impressed with the diversity of the people in attendance.

“We need to show some togetherness,” he said. “This is a very important project.”

Smith added that he hoped the new jail facility could be used to help initiate a juvenile program in Helena-West Helena and some innovative intervention programs as well as a place to house inmates.

“Everyone needs to look at the facts and help our community and county move forward,” Smith concluded.

In closing, Hall said he felt the jail was a necessity to help make Helena-West Helena and Phillips County a safer place to live. He reported that he had petitions and the requirements for signing the petitions available in his office.