Panel approves leasing space for state prisoners
LITTLE ROCK — A state panel finalized a deal Monday to move up to 250 inmates into an unused Pulaski County facility as part of a plan lawmakers approved earlier this month to ease overcrowding at local jails across Arkansas.
The state Board of Corrections approved the agreement with Pulaski County to lease the 250-bed facility in Little Rock for $1 over the next year to house some of the inmates that have been backing up in county jails. The department planned to begin moving about 50 inmates into the facility Monday afternoon, with a goal of putting about 200 inmates there in the coming weeks.
"We'll start moving them in slowly and gradually build up to 200 and see how the operations go with that number," state Department of Correction spokeswoman Shea Wilson said. "We'll determine at that time whether we need to bump it up to the full 250."
The $3.1 million the state will spend over the next year to staff and operate the Pulaski County facility is part of about $6.3 million in funding lawmakers approved earlier this month during a special legislative session to ease overcrowding. The rest of the money is earmarked to open beds at other state-run prisons around Arkansas.
The state's inmate population stands at more than 17,370 inmates, with 2,330 of them being housed at county jails, prison officials told lawmakers last week. In Pulaski County, about 450 of the jail's 1,176 inmates are awaiting state beds, department spokesman Lt. Carl Minden said. The county facility has been closed to admitting some nonviolent offenders since July 1 because of the backlog of state inmates.
Under the plan approved Monday, half of the inmates at the facility being leased will come from Pulaski County. The others will come from Washington, Sebastian, Crittenden, Benton and Jefferson Counties, Wilson said. The facility will only take non-violent offenders and no sex offenders, accepting inmates eligible for release in six months or less, Wilson said.
The panel approved the deal as prison officials are preparing to ask lawmakers for a major boost in funding to ease overcrowding. The chairman of the board told lawmakers last week he's asking the Legislature for between $75 million and $100 million to build a new 1,000-bed prison, along with $25 million in additional annual funding to run it.
Wilson said the new beds in Pulaski County will ease some of the backlog, but the crowding issues still persist.
"It will not solve the overcrowding problem, but it will provide some relief," she said.