LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other state leaders are calling on the state board of corrections to add more prison beds in Arkansas.
Attorney General Tim Griffin and Sanders said in a Friday morning news conference that state prisons being over capacity has been a long-time issue in Arkansas.
According to the Department of Corrections, the state has a prison bed capacity of around 15,000 but Arkansas has more than 16,000 inmates.
They made their first step to address it back in March, introducing what is now a law, known as the Protect Arkansas Act.
“When I ran for this office, I promised Arkansans that I was going to make us safer and stronger,” Sanders said. “Arkansas has had a crime problem made worse by an unwillingness to make necessary changes.”
Sanders said plans are underway for a new prison in Arkansas that will add 3,000 beds, but another plan would add 1,000 beds to existing prisons in the meantime.
The state offered the first 500 to the Board of Corrections last week, but the board rejected the offer.
“I wish I could say we’re here this morning under pleasant circumstances, but that’s simply not the case,” Sanders said as she began a news conference.
A spokesperson for the board declined to comment on the matter after the news conference, but that spokesperson did send KARK 4 News the audio recording of last week’s board meeting where the members decided against the extra beds.
“I don’t think we should make it a motion to make room for people that we don’t even have staff to supervise, nor the facility to put them in,” one member said.
Another talked about the financial investment it would require from the state for them to actually expand capacity as requested, whether that be through hiring more staff or finding more space. Discussion at that meeting indicated it will take further conversations and agreements between the state and board members, though they both acknowledged that capacity is an issue.
Other than the meeting, there has not been a public statement from any board members about their concerns with the law since March. Back when the bill was being voted on in a committee meeting, one member of the board told legislators he was concerned the law would diminish the power of the Board of Corrections and violate a current law that had been in place that addressed authority between the two.
According to the Arkansas Department of Corrections, understaffing in prisons also remains a pressing issue. The spokesperson said the DOC has more than 900 vacancies for staff, though the vacancy rate for correctional officers has fallen 17.2% since January.
Sponsor of the Protect Arkansas Act, Senator Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) posted a response to Friday’s news conference on X.