The Sebastian County Quorum Court took another step in addressing the overcrowded detention center Tuesday.

Justices of the peace approved a motion to put out a request for proposal for a criminal justice planner to conduct a needs assessment during a special meeting Tuesday. County Judge David Hudson said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the course of action Sebastian County will take to address its criminal justice system and the crowded adult detention center. The evaluations and studies to expand the jail from October 2016, November 2017 and February 2018 have not produced a viable solution to the crowded facility.

"The major unresolved issue is funding the ongoing increased operating cost to support an expanded jail," Hudson said. "Capital funding to finance jail expansion options is also a concern."

The Quorum Court passed a motion to evaluate making 3 percent cuts in all general fund budgets during its regular meeting Feb. 20. It took no action to implement that plan during its meeting March 20. The purpose of the cuts was to free up the necessary funding for the addition of 14 detention center staff members for a future expansion of the jail.

The 2018 cost of a detention center deputy is $48,286 for salary and benefits, with 14 new positions totaling $676,004 annually.

Hudson said for immediate decision making, he recommended the Quorum Court support hiring a criminal justice planner by requesting proposals from qualified firms with experience in evaluating criminal justice systems, and who are also familiar with the processes of planning for jail expansion or new jail construction. The phases of planning a jail expansion and the steps to complete a needs assessment are outlined in the National Institute of Corrections publication on jail planning and expansion.

"A needs assessment is estimated to take four to six months, and would be coupled with the appointment of a citizens advisory committee as outlined in the National Institute of Corrections jail planning publication," Hudson said. "This committee would be engaged to review the needs assessment, consider criminal justice coordinating committee policy and actions and provide input as to the long-term solutions to the jail."

This citizens advisory committee will include the stakeholders who have overall responsibility for the jail, such as the sheriff, county judge and Quorum Court, Hudson said, as well as business leaders, the clergy, educators and other stakeholders. The committee can provide insight into the types of concerns and questions the community will have when discussing the new jail project. Throughout the process, the committee offers advice and may also review planning committee reports. Members are also kept informed of the progress and act as ambassadors to the community, especially in the early phases of the project.

The motion passed 8-3, with District 12 JP Bob Schwartz abstaining.

Hudson said the county would get the request for proposal for a criminal justice planner out this week. Based on the proposals, the county will bring back a recommendation to the Quorum Court for consideration.

The Sebastian County Quorum Court will have a regular meeting April 17.