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News covering policy and issues related to city and county governments in the Ozarks.

Springfield City Council to Consider Litigation Against County Over Jail Space

Mayor Bob Stephens
City of Springfield

Springfield Mayor Bob Stephens today said that the city council will consider possible litigation against Greene County after the two sides have failed to reach an agreement over the jailing of municipal prisoners.

Stephens was joined by a coalition of mayors within the county. He said the council will meet to discuss the issue in closed session on Monday.

Today’s announcement comes more than three months after Sheriff Jim Arnott initiated a policy not to take municipal prisoners at the Greene County jail due to overcrowding issues. On Wednesday, that policy was lifted following the completion of renovations to allow more space at the jail, which now has a capacity of 601. But Mayor Stephens says the doors haven’t been open for long, noting that since the policy was lifted the jail has accepted prisoners for a total of just eight hours. In that time, six municipal prisoners were jailed.

In a statement, Stephens said, “We have given the sheriff plenty of opportunities to help us agree on a short-term, compromise solution to the jail overcrowding problem, including delaying this action while facility renovation was completed at the jail and decreasing our requested number of jail beds to only 10, which is 1.6% of the projected total beds.” He continued, “There is an urgent need for a short-term solution and so far, all of the short-term compromise proposals have originated from the city. The two organizations, however, continue to work together on a long-term solution to the challenges of an overstressed justice system.”

Watch the entire press conference here.

During today’s press conference, Sheriff Arnott also took to the podium noting that he is “simply the innkeeper,” and willing to continue to work towards a solution. Presiding Greene County Commissioner Bob Cirtin also expressed the commission’s support for the sheriff and all local law enforcement.

Arnott did mention an option to house up to 25 prisoners at the Henry County Jail at a cost of $150,000, money that was originally slated to go toward repairing the jail’s aging and leaky roof. That would offer bed space there through the rest of the year, he said. Arnott also mentioned that Thursday’s signing of Senate Bill 5, which deals with municipal courts and warrants, will help reduce the amount of warrants Springfield police deals with.

“The combination of that action yesterday by the governor and the combination of the solution that we worked today to come to the table and supported by the county commission to provide money to outsource these prisoners I think is a temporarily solution to get us down the road,” Arnott said. “So I’d ask the mayors of Greene County continue to work with us, realize that we are in a box, we do want to work together.”

The city says according to its own research that of the country’s 144 similar-sized cities, Springfield is the only city of its size without access to a jail for municipal inmates.

The city said that since Sheriff Arnott’s decision to stop accepting municipal prisoners on April 3, which ended July 8, Springfield police officers have arrested 1003 people, on 1251 municipal warrants. Per a judge’s order, all those arrested were released on their own recognizance (ROR) with a court date, rather than taking them to jail. In addition, SPD arrested 183 suspects for misdemeanor crimes and booked them on 226 state charges rather than the corresponding city charge(s).

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