LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press conference on Friday, Nov. 17, calling on the Arkansas Board of Corrections to approve a request for 500 additional prison beds.
Sanders, who was joined by Attorney General Tim Griffin and other officials, started off the meeting acknowledging an overcrowding problem in prisons in the state and that the Arkansas State Board of Corrections denied approval of adding 500 beds to existing prisons.
“For far too long there has been a revolving door in our state’s prison system,” Sanders said. “Criminals commit crimes, get sentenced by the court system, and then because of a shortage of bed space are let back out on the streets with just a slap on the wrist.”
Sanders called the board’s decision “simply unacceptable” and called on them to hold an emergency meeting to approve the beds.
During a Nov. 6 board meeting, Dept. of Corrections Director Dexter Payne requested adding 622 temporary beds across five prisons. Payne noted in his request that nearly 2,000 inmates were a part of the county jail backup and his goal with requesting 622 beds was to “provide some relief to the county jails” of the people that were sentenced to serve time in the state prisons.
Out of the 622 requested, the board approved 130 beds, according to a statement from the Dept. of Corrections spokesperson.
Griffin labeled the board “out of touch with reality” during the press conference and claimed the decision “makes us all less safe.”
“Chairman [Benny] Magness is a defender of the status quo and as such publicly testified against the Protect Act. He failed in the legislature, where the Protect Act passed both chambers by a supermajority,” Griffin said. “Now he is using the Board to impede reform of the corrections system. For someone who claims to support law enforcement, the chairman’s actions indicate otherwise.”
Earlier this year, Sanders signed a law that would allow funding for the expansions of prisons in Arkansas as well as stronger penalties for drug crimes and repeat violent offenders. Her administration is hoping to add a new prison that would add 3,000 beds to help overcrowding issues.
Dept. of Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri said he would “no longer be complicit in informing crime in Arkansas.”
“We have space, we have beds, and will make room for criminals who belong in prison,” Profiri claimed.
The rated capacity is 15,022 for state prisons and there are currently 16,292 people in prison as of Nov. 17. Around 1,895 are in county jails awaiting a bed in a state prison.