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Board OKs leasing space to house inmates

Inmates sleep on the floor July 11, 2014, at the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center in Pine Bluff as the jail deals with an overflow of state prisoners waiting for beds in state facilities. (Pine Bluff Commercial file photo)
Inmates sleep on the floor July 11, 2014, at the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center in Pine Bluff as the jail deals with an overflow of state prisoners waiting for beds in state facilities. (Pine Bluff Commercial file photo)

LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Board of Correction on Monday approved an agreement with Pulaski County to begin leasing space in an effort to reduce a backlog of state prisoners in county jails.

The facility, located behind the county’s jail campus, will be used to house 250 state prisoners under the agreement. Half will be prisoners who have been held at Pulaski County’s jail while waiting for state prison beds to become available; the others will be moved from jails in Sebastian, Jefferson, Washington, Benton and Crittenden counties.

The facility was built to house prisoners and at one time was used for that purpose, according to Lt. Carl Minden, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. He said that because of a lack of funding the facility has not been used to house prisoners lately.

The agreement calls for the state to pay the county a nominal $1 a year to lease the facility. The state will pay all operating expenses to house its prisoners there.

Minden said the agreement relieves some of the backlog of state prisoners at the county jail, which was at 450 Monday morning, and gives the state a ready-made place to house some of its prisoners.

“It’s mutually beneficial to the state and county,” he said.

Because of the backlog, Pulaski County’s jail has been closed since July 1 to certain low-level offenders.

Money to maintain the facility will come from $6.3 million in annual funding that the Legislature and Gov. Mike Beebe allocated during the recent special legislative session.

That money also will be used to open 58 beds at the Northwest Arkansas Work Release Center in Springdale, 72 beds at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern, 100 beds at the McPherson Unit in Newport and 124 beds at the Department of Correction’s old training academy in Jefferson County, said DOC spokeswoman Shea Wilson.

Wilson said the old training academy will be used as a boot camp for parole violators, with a target opening date in November.

By Monday afternoon some of the new beds around the state had already been filled, including about 50 beds at the Pulaski County facility, according to Wilson and Minden.

On Monday morning the state’s total prison population was 17,421, of whom 2,314 were being held in county jails.

“It will help with the overcrowding problem, but as you know from the numbers we have, it won’t solve it,” Wilson said.

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