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Pulaski County Jail upgrades cell door locks, planning future work

Michael Hibblen
Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins shows new cell door locks that have been installed in the Pulaski County Jail.

The Pulaski County Jail has completed a yearlong project to replace the locks on all cell doors at a cost of nearly $2 million.

The safety upgrade was needed, Sheriff Eric Higgins said, because previous locks, which were installed when the jail was built in 1994, weren’t holding up against inmates who were able to get out of their cells and into larger pod areas.

“The locks were failing, they could be compromised,” he said, “so it was a priority that we try to make this facility as secure as possible.”

On Thursday, Higgins walked reporters through the jail showing new electronic locks that he said are on all 530 cell doors in 15 units. The mechanisms are on the outside of the cells rather than within the door frames to keep detainees from accessing the locks.

They feature red and green lights to indicate whether a door is completely shut, “so the deputy that’s working in the facility can get a visual also that each of the cells are secure.”

Higgins said the new locks are in line with modern standards and that other such facilities are making similar upgrades. The kind of lock that had been on the cell doors, which required a key, is no longer being made. He said that necessitated constant repairs that didn’t prove to be effective in keeping inmates in their cells.

The jail has a maximum capacity of 1,210 inmates. He estimated Thursday that 1,169 people were currently being housed there.

Higgins thanked the Pulaski County Quorum Court for allocating money for the project, with the company that completed the installation chosen through a bidding process. Inmates had to be shifted around to different units within the jail as workers installed the locks.

Michael Hibblen
Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins shows reporters an outdated control system in one pod at the jail that needs to be replaced as part of a modernizing of the facility.

“We’re excited that we’ve finally got this project completed,” Higgins said. “This is a more secure facility, it is a safer facility, not only for the men and women that work in here, but also for the people that are housed in this facility.”

Long-term jail maintenance

The next step in modernizing the jail is to replace its control system that opens and locks doors. Higgins said the contractor for that project has been on-site making preparations and will hopefully begin work next month. That too is expected to take about a year.

The sheriff noted the building on Roosevelt Road was constructed on a landfill and there has been some shifting of the foundation, which will eventually require additional work. Higgins said money to cover such expenses has not been allocated.

“When this building was built, a tax was presented to build this facility but there was no money to maintain the facility at the level that is required for a facility of this size,” Higgins said. “We have to prepare for the future.”

Michael Hibblen is News Director of UA Little Rock Public Radio. A 33-year radio veteran, he oversees the KUAR News staff, plans coverage and edits stories while also anchoring and reporting for the station.