- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas corrections officials told lawmakers Thursday they’ll need up to $100 million to build a new prison and $25 million to operate it annually in order to ease prison overcrowding.

The request from the agencies overseeing Arkansas’ prisons and parole programs comes a little more than two weeks after the Legislature set aside about $6 million annually to ease an influx of state inmates at local jails. State prisons officials told a legislative panel the money is helping, but a longer term solution is needed.

“What the governor and Legislature did just a few days ago by giving us $6 million was unbelievably crucial to solving some of the pain the counties and sheriffs were having,” said Benny Magness, chairman of the state Board of Corrections. “We have to do a lot to make sure we don’t get back there.”

Magness said it will cost between $75 million and $100 million to build a new 1,000-bed facility. Madness said the cost will depend on the design of the facility. Magness said the board will send out a request for proposals to see which communities would be interested in a prison being built in their area. Magness said operating the prison, which would employ about 400 people, would cost about $25 million a year.

The Legislature approved the additional funding to open 600 more beds earlier this month during a special session in response to pleas from law enforcement officials around the state. Arkansas’ inmate population grew by 17.7 percent in 2013, fueled by stricter probation and parole policies enacted last year.

Department of Correction Director Ray Hobbs told lawmakers that the state’s prison population currently stands at more than 17,370 inmates, with 2,330 of them being housed at county jails. Hobbs said his department projects the state inmate population will grow to be 20,024 to 21,906 inmates over the next decade.

Prisons officials detailed their requests as the two candidates running for governor - Democrat Mike Ross and Republican As a Hutchinson - have unveiled public safety plans that call for additional funding for state prison and parole programs.

Arkansas Community Correction Director Sheila Sharp said her agency, which oversees prison and parole programs, is requesting an additional $9.5 million next year. Part of that is going toward hiring more probation and parole officers, she said.

“We’ve got to have a balance with the prison beds and doing some things on re-entry for those that want to succeed,” Sharp said. “That’s the direction we’re heading in.”


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