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Board of Corrections’ rejection of prison beds additions request prompts Governor Sanders to push for emergency meeting

18 Nov 2023, Jail News, by

Governor Sanders pushed for an emergency meeting after the Board of Corrections rejected a crucial prison bed capacity increase.

Board of Corrections’ rejection of prison beds additions request prompts Governor Sanders to push for emergency meeting - Inmate Lookup

Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a news conference at the state Capitol on Friday, urging the state Board of Corrections to hold an emergency meeting. This comes after the Board rejected part of a request to expand capacity at state prisons.

Sanders criticized the Board for refusing to approve most of Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri’s request to add over 600 beds at state facilities. She emphasized that the state has the space, resources, and personnel necessary to accommodate the expansion and called out bureaucratic red tape as the only obstacle.

The proposal for more bed space was intended to lessen the backlog of inmates in county jails awaiting space in state prisons.

The board approved the addition of 70 temporary beds at the North Central Unit in Calico Rock and 60 at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern during its meeting on November 6. The request to add 492 beds to the Ester Unit in Pine Bluff, the McPherson Unit in Newport, and the Maximum Security Unit in Jefferson County was, however, denied by the board.

Concerns arose among board members regarding the overcrowded conditions in some prisons and skepticism about the long-term suitability of the proposed 622-bed expansion for county jails. One board member highlighted staff vacancies in the McPherson Unit. In his statement, Profiri refuted some of those claims, stating that there is available space and beds, and they are prepared to accommodate criminals who belong in prison.

Over 1,800 inmates, predominantly sentenced to the Department of Corrections, were in county jails awaiting space in state prisons, as reported on November 3 by Dexter Payne, director of the Division of Correction.

The Ouachita River Unit plans to increase bed capacity by utilizing an unused gymnasium, while at the North Central Unit, five beds will be added to each of the 14 barracks.

Attorney General Tim Griffin placed the blame on Board Chairman Benny Magness, accusing him of defending the status quo and opposing solutions that would enhance public safety and help law enforcement.

Sanders and Griffin argued that the Board’s refusal to add the requested number of temporary beds goes against the Protect Arkansas Act, a criminal justice law that will require offenders to serve most, if not all, of their sentences in prison. They emphasized that the expansion is necessary to accommodate the upcoming changes in sentencing laws.

The governor revealed her plans for a $470 million, 3,000-bed correctional facility in March. When asked for an update on its progress, the governor stated that her November request to the Board of Corrections was a necessary stopgap measure that would provide temporary relief to county jails while the state is in the early phases of establishing a new prison.