Crawford County justices of the peace approved $48,546.10 for the salaries and benefits of two new female detention deputies.
Salaries for the two new positions will be paid from the county’s quarter-cent sales tax for jail maintenance. The positions passed through personnel and budget committees Monday night before approval by the Crawford County Quorum Court.
JPs approved the positions as part of a compromise of a request from Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown for three new female deputy positions.
Brown made the request in an attempt to have additional female deputies, also called matrons, working each shift, he said.
“We’re required by Arkansas jail standards that a male deputy cannot go into a female pod without being invited in by a female deputy, a matron,” Brown said. “If I could … not have that requirement, I wouldn’t have have to be selective on overtime - I could call anybody in to work. I have to have a certain number of females per shift.”
Brown added that with a larger building, it takes longer to book inmates in or move them from one area to another.
“We went from 15,000 square feet to 69,000 square feet,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of running around.”
JP Jayson Peppas noted that the number of female inmates have at least tripled since the new jail opened. Brown said he brought only 16 female inmates during the move to the new facility, but had 47 housed on Monday.
During the quorum court meeting, JP Debbie Atwell asked if the revenue generated from the sales tax in line with projections, to which Crawford County Treasurer Beverly Pyle answered that it was exceeding projections.
Atwell followed up with questions about staffing at similar jails. Brown said that White County, with a similar capacity, has 80 jail employees while Crawford County only has 29.
“If the revenue is exceeding the projections, but the sheriff understands that with due diligence we’re trying to keep our operational costs down and he feels like it’s timely and needed for three positions because of the restrictions by gender, should we go with two or should we go with three?” Atwell asked.
JP Carrie Jernigan, who made the motion to approve two new matrons instead of three, told Atwell that county officials had hoped the jail tax revenue would eventually free up some general fund money for other uses.
Atwell and JP Elaina Damante argued that the safety of the deputies and proper care of inmates should be the county’s first priority.
“We cannot be looking and pinching pennies and then allowing our detention employees to not be taken care of,” Damante said.
“I agree,” Atwell said. “I think the safety of our employees is as imperative as a pay increase.”
At the request of the quorum court, Brown agreed he could operate with the two additional employees for now. If in three months Brown continues to be short female staff, he will submit a request for the third matron at that time.
Training for the new matrons will begin in June and they will start work in the new jail in July, Brown said.