Arkansas' broken state prison system part 2
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) —
In part one of our story, we dug deeper into the overcrowding issues at the county jail level, but now we look at the state prison system. Around 2,600 state inmates are being housed in county jails across the state because there's simply no more room for them in our state prisons.
It has caused at least one jail to close, the Pulaski County Jail. Monday was the first time the Pulaski County Jail re-opened its doors since April, but if the state doesn't fix the system authorities fear this problem could get worse.
19 state prisons across Arkansas house more than 17,500 inmates.
"All of our facilities are either at capacity or right at it or over," said Arkansas Department of Corrections Spokesperson, Shea Wilson. "We have been doing everything we can to try to alleviate some of the backup."
State prison overcrowding has been an issue for years according Wilson, but it's been pretty constant since last summer, it's not just a state problem, it's trickling down to the county level as well.
"We know that the county jails are hurting, especially Pulaski County and some of the others, we are working to do what we can, this past fiscal session," Wilson said. "We sought money to open two-hundred additional beds at the north central unit at north calico rock, that's been done, those 200 beds are open."
ADC's overall budget is around $350 million a year, and while they've made efforts to reduce county jail backups; such as opening more beds and routinely requesting for quicker release dates for inmates eligible for parole, Wilson said it all boils down to needing more funding.
"We're also looking at building a new 1,000 bed prison but we're in the very preliminary stages of that, so a lot of work has to be done before we can ever get to the point of construction," said Wilson. "What's it going to take for you guys to get to that point of construction? Money? Money, we need more money for additional beds."
Wilson added, that ADC will continue to lobby legislators for more money during the next fiscal session, but no matter how much they ask for and how much they fight for more funding, the fate of the state prison system will be left to the state.
Just last month, Republican nominee for governor, Asa Hutchinson announced a public safety plan, as he says crime is a challenge Arkansas must face.
"It really starts with adequate prison space, because if you don't have adequate prison space, then our parole system doesn't work because you don't have accountability, our judicial system does not work because the judges will sentence somebody to prison, but if there's not a bed a for them," said Asa Hutchinson.
Meanwhile, Democratic nominee for governor, Mike Ross will not be releasing his public safety plan until later this summer, but does acknowledge the prison system's problems.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we're not going to have to build another prison," said Mike Ross. "We've got nearly 3,000 inmates backed up in county jails, but a prison costs about $80 million in terms of a onetime expenditure, but then an additional $35 million a year to operate once it's built forever."
Hutchinson and Ross both say they will await a $3 million study the general assembly invested in to see if a new prison is necessary.
"How are you going to get more money for the prison system? Well first of all, Governor Beebe has already set the stage for a new prison with the $3 million review, which will include some engineering studies and so it's really something in process," said Hutchinson. "I just want to express the commitment on one how important it is, and that if it continues to justify that need, then I will support the funding of it."
"How do you plan to get all this money to help with this prison reform idea? It's about priorities, look we typically have revenue growth within state government and my plan, my vision, my positive vision for the future of this state is to you know use some of that revenue growth," said Ross.
You can see part one of our story here. Channel 7 will continue to follow this story.