Benton County officials hung their heads in defeat as the long-debated $25 million bond proposal for a new jail was rejected by voters on the latest ballot. The bond measure went down by a total of 1,079 votes, which amounted to a mere five percentage point loss.
Over the last year, Benton County Sheriff Scott Jackson and a team of county commissioners had taken to public forum to promote and detail the reasons that a new jail was necessary, calling for an increase in beds and the establishment of a dedicated mental health wing. Despite Jackson’s public appearances and the growing laundry list of issues facing the current jail, voters shot the proposal down and made their message clear. “Try something else.”
Benton County Circuit Court Judge David Connell heard the community but nonetheless found himself frustrated with the result, citing the ongoing issue with being unable to properly sentence criminals.
“It’s business as usual,” Connell said. “Nothing has changed with how we’re doing things. We don’t have a bigger jail, so the same type of release decisions will unfortunately occur. We’ll continue to have people being released that should be held accountable.”
Jackson felt a similar frustration but remained hopeful for the future, stating that he understands that the community wants a say in future plans.
“What I’m going to be pushing for and encouraging is that we go back to the basics and involve the community,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of obvious to me that they want more participation, that they want to be more involved in the decision-making, so we’ll come together and we’ll figure it out.”
While Jackson and company shuffle off the field in disappointment, David Grappo, chairman of Citizens Against a New Jail, awaits his celebratory Gatorade bath. Grappo had long believed that the $25 million jail would be an unnecessary expense and the greater Benton County community seemed to agree.
Grappo hopes that the county will take this loss to heart and explore other solutions to the ongoing jail problem.
“It is always satisfying to be on the winning side of anything,” said Grappo. “This victory was not like a typical sports competition where the participants can go home, drink beer, and then forget about what happened. There are many issues in our criminal justice system that still must be addressed. Hopefully the ‘just build a bigger jail’ mentality no longer controls our thinking when it comes to finding solutions.”
With the curtain drawn on the latest attempt to revamp the Benton County Jail, one can only hope that sometime in the next 20 years or so, something gets done that finally puts this issue to bed.
By Nathan Hermanson