- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2016

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. (AP) - A prison in Pine Bluff is a step closer to moving into a vacant hospital in West Memphis.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1SSL2sl ) reports that the Arkansas Board of Corrections and the Crittenden County Quorum Court voted in separate meetings Tuesday to enter into a lease agreement allowing the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Pine Bluff to move its operation to the vacant Crittenden County Hospital in West Memphis.

Chief deputy director of Arkansas Community Correction Kevin Murphy says that about 350 female, nonviolent offenders would move to the West Memphis facility in as soon as 60 days. Many of the inmates are being treated for addiction.

The move requires Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s approval. Murphy said legislative action isn’t required because the Board of Corrections has statutory authority to open and close facilities.

“This move will save the state of Arkansas several million dollars,” Murphy said.

More than 130 employees will be displaced at the Pine Bluff lockup. Community Correction officials said they’ll do everything they can to find those employees jobs with Community Correction or the Arkansas Department of Correction. Murphy said he expects 10 to 15 percent of employees to move to the West Memphis facility.

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth expressed opposition to the move last week and began a petition drive to appeal the petition to the governor. The newspaper couldn’t reach her for comment about the lease agreement Tuesday.

West Memphis residents also don’t approve of the move.

“I personally don’t feel comfortable about this going here,” said Tammi Bell, a West Memphis resident. “I think rehab is great. I just don’t want it in my city center.”

But others, like area real estate developer Steve Lackey, support the decision.

“I wouldn’t think of passing up an opportunity like this when the citizens of Jefferson County are fighting to keep it there,” Lackey said. “This is a no-brainer.”


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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