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Arkansas adding more prison beds despite concerns, fear of short staffing



Little Rock, Arkansas – Pushback continues over state prisons as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders works to formalize a campaign promise while corrections officials wrangle over jail space.

There’s currently some back-and-forth between the administration and the independent Board of Corrections on how many beds may or should be added.

In April, Sanders signed the Protect Arkansas Act, which contained a new 3,000-bed prison. However, with that facility still years distant, the state is scrambling to find space anywhere it can.

Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri wants more than 600 new beds to help with existing overcrowding, but the Board of Corrections said they can’t tell how he will get the room or the staff.

This leaves a lot of people tied to the system puzzled and anxious, such Alvertis Murray, who spent much of his life incarcerated for aggravated burglary and assault and was liberated two years ago.

“It’s causing problems with the safety of the officers and inmates because you don’t have room,” Murray said.

Murray said he has family ones currently serving time and hopes politicians understand his safety worries over prolonged overcrowding.

“There are conditions that are inhumane,” Murray said. “When you walk in and look at it, it’s not a safe environment.”

The Board of Corrections discussed some of their concerns in a meeting Friday.

“The safety of the people of Arkansas is our number one priority,” Chairman Benny Magness said. “Second is the safety of staff, and third is the safety of inmates. The public isn’t as conscious of those last two, but we need to be.”

The meeting followed Profiri’s initial request for 622 beds, and the board only granted 130.

Last month, the governor held a press conference appealing for the whole amount.

“We currently have over 16,000 available beds, but over 18,000 criminals that need to be incarcerated,” Sanders said.

The spokeswoman for the governor shared a statement with us on Tuesday.
“Governor Sanders rejects the failed policy of catch and early release of violent offenders from prison for no reason other than lack of prison space,” Sanders’ spokesperson said. “The Board of Corrections had plenty of time to do the right thing but chose not to act, so the governor and secretary, who has the authority to open certain bed space, are going to do everything in their power to keep Arkansans safe.”

However, personnel shortages in state prisons persist. In a meeting with lawmakers earlier this month, the Department of Corrections said they are 60% staffed.

“We are short-staffed staffed, but we are working to correct that issue,” a representative said.

While the secretary of corrections continues to fight for the full 622 beds, the Department of Corrections has been reticent but has approved over one hundred more.

Meanwhile, those with direct ties to prisoners pray for a safe outcome.

“It’s really more of a concern when you look at people and just human dignity and human rights,” Murray said.

According to the Department of Corrections, across the state, 1,900 inmates are currently housed in county jails due to a lack of capacity in state prisons.


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