State Prison Population Reaches Another Record High

Aug 20, 2015


The Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions Subcommittee heard from prison officials at the Multi-Agency Complex on State Capitol grounds Thursday.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

 Corrections officials are considering plans to send more state prisoners out-of-state as the Arkansas inmate population reaches an all-time high. Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley told lawmakers at the Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council Thursday she's been visiting privately-operated prisons in neighboring states, and will likely recommend some Arkansas inmates to be housed in one of them.

“If we open another out-of-state facility or contract for another one, it will depend on what services they can offer there,” she said. “For instance, if they offer GED, I can send inmates there who still have not attained their GED, or if they have substance abuse treatment, all of that will come into play in deciding who goes.”

The state has already contracted with a facility in Bowie County, Texas, where 336 Arkansas inmates have been housed. As of Thursday, corrections officials reported that 19,055 inmates are under state jurisdiction, the most at any point in Arkansas history.

Kelley said she has visited sites in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee. She said she's still in discussions with officials there regarding cost and services.

“Those facilities have not provided us their final figure and what they would include in that figure in terms of medical [care]. One facility didn't have 24-hour medical care on-site so I didn't recommend we sen inmates there,” she said.

Nearly every in-state prison is over capacity and about 2,700 inmates are being housed in county jails. The full Arkansas Legislative Council is expected Friday to consider allocating 10 million dollars for more prison bed space in Arkansas and at the Bowie County facility. State officials and faith-based nonprofits are also gearing up for a summit next week looking at how the state can better transition inmates back into society.