A project to convert a West Memphis hospital into a facility for nonviolent offenders is nearing completion. The Arkansas Board of Corrections will be hearing updates on the renovation at its meeting Thursday.
The $650,000 project will house 300 nonviolent female offenders, many of whom are now assigned to a compound in Pine Bluff, called the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center. Officials say the buildings there are deteriorating and can not be maintained at a reasonable cost.
“We’ve used band-aids, bubble gum and bailing wire everywhere we could to try to keep them running, but time is beating us. And they’re starting to really be in serious need of a lot of extensive repairs that would cost millions and millions of dollars,” says Dina Tyler, deputy director at Arkansas Community Correction.
She says the project to convert the West Memphis hospital should be completed by June or July. The department is also proposing to buy $50,000 in land, which includes a parking lot adjacent to the facility. Some of the land could be used as a garden. Capacity at the facility could reach 350 offenders, Tyler says. Ongoing renovations at the hospital include reconstructing doorways, removing electrical outlets and making roof repairs.
In late March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved a request by the ACC to move the operations to the West Memphis facility. It closed as a hospital in August, 2014 and is being leased by Crittenden County to the ACC for one dollar a year.
The Board of Corrections will also be approving a new name for the facility at its meeting Thursday. It’s expected to be called the East Arkansas Community Correction Center.
Bed Expansion At Pine Bluff Unit
Corrections officials are also planning to expand the number of inmates a Pine Bluff prison can house. The project would retrofit an administrative building into barracks, creating approximately 60 beds at the Pine Bluff Unit. It would cost about $780,000, according to a construction consultant hired by the Arkansas Department of Correction. The unit currently has a capacity of nearly 1,400 inmates.
“We are continuing to look for every possible option within existing limitation and within our existing capacity to create more beds,” says Solomon Graves, a spokesman for the ADC. “We continue to need more beds and our position is that this expansion will provide that necessary capacity.”
Graves says the renovations on the building, which sits inside the unit’s main fence, would involve electric work as well as reformatting the HVAC system and enhancing security systems.
The state, which has experienced prison overcrowding in recent years, currently oversees about 18,000 inmates. Roughly 16,100 are under the department’s direct supervision in the state’s prisons. A jail facility in Bowie County, Texas is holding 335 inmates. The rest are being held in county jails. Some are also in a work release program, or being supervised by the Arkansas State Police. 23 are being held in other jurisdictions as part of an interstate compact.
If the Pine Bluff prison bed expansion is given the go-ahead by the Board of Corrections, it would then have to be approved by the Governor. Costs would be covered by the state's Prison Construction Trust Fund, which is overseen by the Arkansas Development Financing Authority.