Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is backing a plan to build more prison space to house an increasing number of inmates.
The construction would cost between $60 million to $100 million, the governor said Thursday during a news conference. He said the state would have a firmer idea on the cost once an architectural design is selected.
Hutchinson said data shows the prison population will grow at a rate of about 1.4% a year over a span of 10 years. About 2,300 inmates were in county jails in January awaiting transfer to prisons, he said.
“It does not give our local court system enough flexibility to arrest people on misdemeanor offenses and to have adequate space in the county jail for other purposes, and so we need to get that backup down,” Hutchinson said.
The plan, which requires legislative approval, would expand the North Central Unit in Calico Rock to create 498 additional prison beds. The governor is proposing using surplus money from the budget to fund the construction.
“The general assembly controls the purse strings in terms of appropriations, and it would have to have their support,” Hutchinson said. “That’s why we’re bringing this forward now is because we have a fiscal session that starts next week, and we want this on the table.”
While the surplus would cover construction costs, future operating costs would be dealt with in future budget sessions.
“The first responsibility of government is public safety,” Hutchinson said. “That’s a big responsibility for our state, and it rides on my shoulders, and I look at our prison population and we need to address the issue of adequate space.”
Department of Corrections Secretary Solomon Graves said the hope is to begin construction during the first half of 2023.
The governor said when he was first elected there were recommendations to spend $100 million to expand prison space, but the state reduced that amount by $50 million by adjusting laws that put more offenders in the parole system while also adding some prison space.
However, Hutchinson said the increasing prison population now has called for additional prison space to be added.
“Regretfully, as you grow in population, historically the prison population grows as well. We’re a growing state,” Hutchinson said.
This article was originally posted on Hutchinson asks lawmakers for money to build prisons