Arkansas’ prison board and state leader agree that the state needs a new prison, but progress has inched along. Nearly a year after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced plans to set aside $470 million for a new 3,000-bed prison, the project remains in the preliminary stages, reports the Arkansas Advocate. "We are in the process of identifying property that is the most suitable for building a 3,000 bed facility, taking into consideration such things as labor force, infrastructure, and access to emergency services and highways. It doesn’t do us much good if we can’t staff the prison or get to it,” said Dina Tyler of the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Tyler said officials have been working to identify a “building program” that would meet the agency’s needs, stay under budget and provide the number of beds needed.
The Sanders administration abandoned or paused three corrections expansion projects started under former Gov. Asa Hutchinson with support from the General Assembly — a 500-bed expansion at the prison in Calico Rock, a new 1,000 bed prison and a new 500-bed community correction facility — to make way for the 3,000-bed facility. Despite agreement on the need for a new prison, a public spat between Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin with the Board of Corrections has raged in a courtroom and through public letters and statements. The disagreement is over two questions: How can Arkansas safely expand its prison capacity and, who gets to make those final calls? The state has 18,500 inmates but the prison system has an inmate capacity of just 15,022. Some 1,600 state inmates are backed up into county jails. Some facilities have unfilled guard positions upwards of 40%.