Gov. Sarah Sanders wants to create 500 new beds in the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) system and she is calling on the Board of Corrections to do so. A department spokesperson said the agency doesn’t have the staff to accommodate the bed request.
She was joined by Attorney General Tim Griffin, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Director of Arkansas State Police Mike Hagar, Secretary of Corrections Joe Profiri among others on Friday (Nov. 17) to make the request public.
“As governor, my top priority is the safety and security of our citizens. I will not sit by while we enact the same broken policies that got us here in the first place because nobody ever called them out. Unfortunately, some in those positions of leadership are still playing games that put Arkansans in harm’s way. Last week, the Arkansas State Board of Corrections refused to approve Secretary Profiri’s thoughtful, informed and desperately – needed request to open up hundreds of additional prison beds. This is simply unacceptable. I’m calling on the Board to convene an emergency meeting without delay to approve the 500 additional beds that they denied last week,” said Sanders.
According to the ADC, there were 16,292 inmates in state prison as of Nov. 17, with the prison system structured to house 15,022 inmates. The ADC said as of Friday that county jails were holding 1,895 inmates waiting for space in the state prison system.
Arkansas Department of Correction spokesperson Dina Tyler told Talk Business & Politics late Friday night that the reason the request wasn’t approved is that the department has about 900 job vacancies. She said the Board is independent and this was only her analysis of what they did.
According to published reports and information from the Department of Corrections, ADC Director Dexter Payne asked the Corrections Board in early November for 622 temporary beds to reduce inmate numbers in county jails. Payne’s request was for temporary beds in the following facilities.
• 60 beds in the gymnasium at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern
• 70 beds in existing space at the North Central Unit in Calico Rock
• Restoring 124 beds at the re-entry center at the Maximum Security Unit in England, Ark.
• 124 beds in existing space at the Ester Unit in Pine Bluff
• 244 beds in a vacant building at the McPherson Unit in Newport
Approval was granted for 130 beds at the Ouachita River and North Central Units. It was noted that the other 499 new bed requests at other, multiple prisons were denied, but the Board asked for more information before approving those requests.
Tyler said the department had a 39% job vacancy rate at the beginning of the year, and that has dropped to 17%, but they still need more frontline workers before more inmates can be added.
“The Board has to make sure we have the staff,” she said.
Despite the lack of staff, several elected officials, including Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, called for the creation of more bed space.
“The Board of Corrections failed to approve 500 additional prison beds – when we need several thousand – and demonstrated how out of touch with reality they are. Make no mistake, the Board’s decision makes us all less safe, and as a result is in direct conflict with their stated purpose ‘to manage correctional resources in the state such that offenders are held accountable for their actions, victims’ needs are addressed in a positive manner, and the safety of society is enhanced,’” Griffin noted in a statement.
Sanders signed the Safer, Stronger Arkansas legislative package into law earlier this year. The legislation paves the way for the state to build a 3,000-bed prison to address overcrowding in county jails and improving conditions for inmates. It also includes the Protect Act, which strengthens law enforcement’s ability to get repeat offenders and violent felons off the streets and provides enhanced resources to rehabilitate inmates and help them reintegrate into society.