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how many prisons are in arkansas

16 Jun 2023, Prisons, by

Discover the number of prisons in Arkansas with our comprehensive guide.

how many prisons are in arkansas - Inmate Lookup

Arkansas is home to a significant number of prisons, both state and federal. In this article, we will explore the history and development of the Arkansas prison system, as well as the different types of prisons, security levels, inmate populations, and funding sources. We will also examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s prison system, compare Arkansas to other states, and discuss criticisms and controversies surrounding the state’s prisons.

The History of Arkansas State Prisons

The Arkansas state prison system has a long and complex history. The first state prison was built in 1838 in Little Rock and served as the primary correctional institution for Arkansas until the construction of the Tucker Unit in 1990. In the 1890s, the state began using convict labor for road construction and other public works projects. This practice continued into the 20th century, despite concerns about inhumane working conditions and abuse of prisoners.

In the 1960s and 70s, the Arkansas prison system came under scrutiny for overcrowding and poor living conditions. In response, the state began to implement reforms, including the construction of new, more modern facilities and the establishment of programs to address inmates’ educational and vocational needs. In recent years, the state has also focused on reducing recidivism rates and improving reentry services for released prisoners.

One of the most significant events in the history of Arkansas state prisons was the 1971 riot at the Cummins Unit, which resulted in the deaths of 39 inmates and one guard. The riot was sparked by poor living conditions and mistreatment of prisoners, and it led to major reforms in the state’s prison system. The incident also brought national attention to the issue of prison reform and the need for better treatment of inmates.

Types of Prisons in Arkansas

Arkansas has several different types of prisons, including maximum, medium, and minimum-security facilities. Additionally, the state operates several correctional institutions for women. The Arkansas Department of Corrections also contracts with private companies to operate some facilities, which we will discuss in more detail later in the article.

Each type of prison in Arkansas serves a different purpose. Maximum-security facilities are designed to house the most dangerous and violent offenders, while medium-security facilities are for those who have committed less severe crimes. Minimum-security facilities are for non-violent offenders who are nearing the end of their sentences and are preparing to re-enter society. The correctional institutions for women provide specialized programs and services to meet the unique needs of female inmates. These programs include parenting classes, substance abuse treatment, and vocational training.

The Number of Federal Prisons in Arkansas

There are currently two federal prisons in Arkansas, both located in Forrest City. The Federal Correctional Complex houses both male and female inmates, while the Forrest City Low FCI is a low-security male facility.

Despite having only two federal prisons, Arkansas has a high incarceration rate compared to other states. In fact, the state has the third-highest incarceration rate in the country, with over 17,000 people currently behind bars.

The Federal Correctional Complex in Forrest City is one of the largest employers in the area, providing jobs for hundreds of people. However, the prison has also faced criticism for its treatment of inmates, with reports of overcrowding and inadequate medical care.

The Role of Private Prisons in Arkansas

Private prisons play a significant role in Arkansas’ correctional system. One of the largest private prison operators, CoreCivic, operates three facilities in the state: the East Arkansas Regional Unit, the Southeast Arkansas Pre-Release Center, and the Grimes Unit. These facilities house both state and federal inmates and have faced criticism for their profit-driven approach to corrections.

Despite the criticism, private prisons in Arkansas have been praised for their ability to reduce overcrowding in state-run facilities. In recent years, the state has faced a growing prison population, leading to concerns about safety and the quality of rehabilitation programs. Private prisons have helped to alleviate some of these issues by providing additional space for inmates and offering specialized programs to help reduce recidivism rates.

However, the use of private prisons in Arkansas remains a controversial topic. Critics argue that the profit-driven nature of these facilities can lead to a lack of accountability and a focus on cost-cutting measures that can compromise the safety and well-being of inmates. As the state continues to grapple with its prison population, the debate over the role of private prisons in Arkansas is likely to continue.

Security Levels in Arkansas State Prisons

As mentioned earlier, Arkansas has several different security levels for its prisons. Maximum-security facilities house the most dangerous and violent offenders, while minimum-security facilities are reserved for non-violent offenders who are nearing the end of their sentences. Medium-security facilities fall somewhere in between.

In addition to these three main security levels, Arkansas also has specialized facilities for certain types of offenders. For example, the Diagnostic Unit is a maximum-security facility that provides mental health evaluations and treatment for inmates. The Varner Unit is a supermax facility that houses the most high-risk and disruptive inmates. These specialized facilities allow the state to provide targeted care and management for inmates with specific needs or risks.

Inmate Population in Arkansas State Prisons

According to the most recent data from the Arkansas Department of Corrections, there were approximately 17,000 inmates in state custody as of June 2021. Of these, about 1,200 were women. The overall prison population has decreased slightly in recent years, but the state still faces challenges in addressing overcrowding and providing appropriate healthcare and mental health services.

In addition to the challenges of overcrowding and healthcare, the Arkansas Department of Corrections has also faced criticism for its use of solitary confinement. In 2019, a lawsuit was filed against the department alleging that the use of solitary confinement for extended periods of time violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The department has since implemented reforms to reduce the use of solitary confinement and improve conditions for inmates in segregation units.

Funding for Arkansas State Prisons

Like many state prison systems, funding for Arkansas’ correctional facilities comes primarily from the state budget. The exact amount of funding allocated to the Department of Corrections varies from year to year but typically amounts to several hundred million dollars.

In addition to state funding, Arkansas State Prisons also receive federal funding through grants and contracts. These funds are used for specific programs and initiatives aimed at reducing recidivism rates and improving inmate rehabilitation. Some of the federal funding is also used for maintenance and upgrades to prison facilities.

Staff Numbers and Training Requirements for Arkansas State Prisons

The staff of Arkansas state prisons is comprised of both correctional officers and administrative staff. According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently approximately 5,000 employees across the state’s various facilities. Correctional officers are required to complete a training program that includes coursework on safety, security, and inmate interactions.

In addition to the required training for correctional officers, administrative staff members are also required to complete training programs specific to their roles. This may include training on budget management, human resources, and facility maintenance. The Department of Corrections places a strong emphasis on ongoing training and professional development for all staff members to ensure the safety and security of both staff and inmates.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Arkansas State Prisons

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Arkansas’ correctional system, as it has in other states. According to the Department of Corrections, as of June 2021, there had been over 1,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. The state has implemented several measures to try to prevent the spread of the virus, including testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs.

Despite these efforts, the pandemic has still had a devastating impact on the state’s prisons. In addition to the confirmed cases, there have been several outbreaks within the facilities, leading to lockdowns and restricted movement for inmates. The pandemic has also exacerbated existing issues within the system, such as overcrowding and understaffing, making it even more challenging to control the spread of the virus. As the state continues to navigate the pandemic, it is crucial to prioritize the health and safety of both inmates and staff within the correctional system.

Comparing the Number of Prisons in Arkansas to Other States

How does Arkansas’ prison system compare to those of other states? According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Arkansas has a higher incarceration rate than the national average, with around 640 people per 100,000 in prison or jail. However, the state does not have as many prisons as some other states; as of 2021, Arkansas had 19 state-run correctional facilities and two federal prisons, compared to Texas’ 104 state-run facilities and California’s 35.

Despite having fewer prisons than some other states, Arkansas has faced issues with overcrowding in its correctional facilities. In 2019, the state’s prison population was at 105% of its capacity, leading to concerns about the safety and well-being of both inmates and staff. To address this issue, the state has implemented various reforms, such as expanding alternative sentencing programs and increasing funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Another factor to consider when comparing prison systems is the racial and ethnic makeup of the incarcerated population. In Arkansas, Black people are disproportionately represented in the state’s prisons and jails, making up 42% of the total population despite only accounting for 15% of the state’s overall population. This disparity is reflective of broader trends in the United States, where systemic racism and bias in the criminal justice system have led to disproportionate rates of incarceration for Black and brown communities.

Criticisms and Controversies Surrounding Arkansas State Prisons

Arkansas’ prison system has faced numerous criticisms and controversies over the years. Among the most significant issues are concerns about overcrowding, inadequate healthcare and mental health services, and the use of solitary confinement. Private prisons have also faced scrutiny for their profit-driven approach to corrections and allegations of mistreatment of inmates.

In addition to these issues, there have also been concerns raised about the lack of educational and vocational programs available to inmates. Without access to these programs, inmates may struggle to find employment and reintegrate into society upon release. Additionally, there have been reports of inadequate nutrition and living conditions, which can have negative impacts on the physical and mental health of inmates.

Programs and Initiatives Aimed at Reducing Recidivism in Arkansas State Prisons

In recent years, Arkansas has implemented several programs and initiatives aimed at reducing recidivism rates and improving reentry services for released inmates. The state runs several vocational and educational programs, and participates in national efforts to improve reentry outcomes. Additionally, the state has experimented with alternatives to incarceration, such as drug courts and community supervision, in an effort to reduce the overall number of people in prison.

One of the most successful programs implemented in Arkansas is the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which provides federal Pell Grants to eligible incarcerated individuals to pursue postsecondary education. This program has shown promising results in reducing recidivism rates and improving employment outcomes for released inmates.

Another initiative that has gained traction in Arkansas is the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in prison rehabilitation programs. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. By incorporating CBT into their rehabilitation programs, Arkansas hopes to address the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behavior and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

The Cost of Maintaining and Operating Arkansas State Prisons

The cost of operating Arkansas’ correctional system is significant. The state spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on its prisons, including salaries for staff, healthcare and mental health services, and infrastructure maintenance. Critics argue that the money spent on corrections could be better used for community programs that address the root causes of crime.

Future Plans for the Development of the Prison System in Arkansas

Looking ahead, Arkansas faces several challenges and opportunities related to the development of its correctional system. The state must continue to address concerns about overcrowding, healthcare, and mental health services while also exploring new approaches to reduce recidivism rates and provide better reentry services. Additionally, the state must grapple with questions about the role of private prisons and the appropriate level of funding for the state’s correctional facilities.


Overall, Arkansas has a complex and multifaceted prison system, with many different types of facilities and populations. While the state has made progress in recent years in addressing some of the most significant challenges facing its correctional system, there is still much work to be done to ensure that Arkansas’ prisons are safe, effective, and equitable.