Mon October 30, 2023

By Jeff Smithpeters

Community Business

HC Sheriff Singleton tells Lions Club this is his last term, also talks Veterans Day, jail work, future new jail

Hempstead County Sheriff James I. Singleton Lions Club Hempstead County Jail Hempstead County Quorum Court
HC Sheriff Singleton tells Lions Club this is his last term, also talks Veterans Day, jail work, future new jail
Hempstead County Sheriff James I Singleton spoke today at the Lions Club meeting, explaining work going on in the county jail, preparing the county for what will be a considerable expense in a few years. He also reminded the audience, “if any of you didn’t know,” that this is his last term, and his last day in office will be December 31st, 2026.  

“Eventually, we’re going to have to ask the people for a new jail at some point in the future,” Singleton said. “And, to give you another point, I’m not going to be sheriff then. I’m on my last term if any of you didn’t know.” He named the date of his last day and added, “I’m going to become a double full-time grandpa.” 

Having been introduced about ten minutes earlier by Lions member and Hope City Director Mark Ross, the sheriff began his talk by promoting two days of events to celebrate the county’s military veterans. On Friday November 10 at 4:00 p.m, a Veterans Day Parade will start from Bank OZK and proceed along the same route the Southwest District Fair Parade took last month. Right now, about 60 floats have registered. Grand Marshals of the parade will be Hope veterans Colonel David Lively and Commander Herbert Ross. 

“We need to make a good show and please honor our veterans,” Singleton said. “We need to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and are still giving today throughout the world. I’ve got a deputy stationed in Kuwait, and he’s been over there about a year. So we’re hoping we’ll be having him home soon before long.” 

On Saturday November 11, starting 11:00 a.m., a ceremony will take place at the location of the Old County Courthouse monuments and then veterans and their families will be fed a Lions Club fish fry meal with all the trimmings for free.  All others would pay $10. 

The sheriff then turned to the unsavory subject of sewer line troubles at the jail that, in the attempt to repair them, became a structural matter that will require more funds to address.  “What started out as a smell in the jail, turned into a big plumbing problem,” he said. “We started out with a ten-inch pipe, a drain pipe that had collapsed. Once we got the hole dug--first of all, we had to evacuate the whole jail. 

“We don’t have any prisoners in the jail except for 309s [state prisoner trustys relied upon for low cost labor],” Singleton said.  About 98 prisoners were moved to other jail facilities in the area  September 9th. Though the number has reduced since then, Singleton said this costs $12,000 a month, not counting the cost of transporting inmates to medical and court appointments.  At the Hempstead County Quorum Court meeting Thursday, Singleton said the inmates would likely be back in the county jail after Veterans Day. 

Resuming the subject of the work done at the courthouse, Singleton said, “Once we got down there, we found out that a two foot by two-foot concrete beam that stretches the length of the building had collapsed.” 

This required the sheriff to bring in pros from Fort Smith to fix the beam and support it. “They had to take pipe, two-inch pipe. They had to drill down about 50 feet each, put 20 piers under that beam to straighten it up. There's over 1,000 feet of pipe under that. Under that broken beam.” 

Meanwhile, sewage was coming up in the jail’s holding cell from a source unknown. “So once again, we got to jackhammering … there's about an eight-foot deep 12-foot-wide oblivion under there. I mean, there's nothing. Nothing there was holding the floor up except the rebar in the concrete. So they've pumped and pumped and brought in pea gravel and dirt, things like that and got that fixed.” 

As of now, work is ongoing to make it so grease runs down the grease trap rather than all over the floor. “And then last week, there was some water leak in the wall,” Singleton said. He reminded the audience that the jail had been finished 30 years ago, with the county starting its use in 1994 and that a new jail building would be needed. 

“The people that have been working on [the county jail] right now say we can get about six to eight years,” the sheriff said, adding, “We as Hempstead Countians are going to have to think about what we’re going to do.” So far the cost, he said, has reached $68,000, with more expected beyond that. Quorum Court Budget Committee Chair Ed Darling said after Thursday’s meeting that about a $210,000 expense is expected for the fixes at the jail and the bill would be paid by the use of American Rescue Plan funds. 

It was at this point Sheriff Singleton mentioned this term being his last, with late December 2026 as his retirement date.  He then asked the audience for questions about the jail issue. 

Steve Atchley, a Hempstead Quorum Court member as well as a Lion member, asked rhetorically why the jail had been built on such an unsuitable surface, specifically what used to be West Fourth Street, whose surface and infrastructure was not removed prior to the jail being built. He said a problem with a door in the jail had been found to be caused by the presence of a manhole from the street beneath it. “Why they didn’t dig that out and build a foundation? We don’t know.” 

“And I didn’t have anything to do with that, either,” Singleton said, causing some laughter in the room. 

“He was not sheriff then,” answered Atchley. “I wasn’t on the Quorum Court then, either.” But Atchley agreed “we’re going to have to build a new jail somewhere down the road.” 

“I’m going to tell you the cost to build a jail today is $150,000 a bed. You take a hundred bed jail like we have, and there you go.” That cost would amount to $15 million. “Now who knows what that cost will be later.” 

Atchley cited the cost of the recently built Little River County Jail at $8 million. He said he also hoped the new jail would contain a 20-bed wing for juveniles. 

Singleton said the perfect place to build the new jail would be near the interstate where the migrant center was formerly located. “You’d have to check the soil out to make sure. But the county owns 8.99 acres out there. We originally wanted to build the juvenile center at but mostly due to funding that's been impossible but that may be a site to look at. For the future out there. It's out of the way, near the interstate, easy on, easy off.” 

A question was asked about the splitting of the office of Sheriff and Collector in Arkansas which will be mandated for the next sheriff to be elected in 2026. Singleton said the duties of collector are now handled by Dianne Westbrook in whom he has great confidence. He said he did not know whether she plans to run for the office in 2026, but hoped she would. 

Ross asked Singleton how the repair charges would be paid. The sheriff deferred to Lions and Quorum Court members James Griffin and Steve Atchley for this answer.  Griffin said the funding would come from two acts which sent federal money to local government for economic stability and recovery during the pandemic, with one bill being signed by President Trump and the next by President Biden. 

“We will tell you this. If we hadn’t had that money, we’d have been in worse shape than this county has ever been in. We’re very fortunate to have this, because we couldn’t fix the jail if we hadn’t had it … And we’re being very conservative with it, I’ll tell you that.” Atchley said. 

“That’s the three-letter hated word in the book. It’s tax. And I don’t blame you. I’m tired of taxes, too. But at some point the Hempstead Countians are going to have to pony up for a new detention facility and jail,” Singleton said. 

He said he had not heard from Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders or state agencies about whether a new state prison would be built in Hempstead County.  The problem he said had been the lack of a labor supply in the region. Singleton said he was against the jail here himself because it would make retaining jail guards much harder if they could be paid $45,000 to work for the state versus $30,000 to work for the county.