Department of Corrections seeks land donation for facility

The Arkansas Department of Corrections issued a public notice Friday for submissions from communities interested in donating land for construction of a new corrections center that will house approximately 200 to 300 offenders within the Division of Community Correction.

Plans for a new correction center are part of a larger effort to address prison overcrowding issues within Arkansas. Earlier this month the department sent out a separate notice seeking land donations for construction of an additional maximum-security facility that would house approximately 1,000 inmates within the Division of Correction.

Prison expansion has come up repeatedly over the past year, with several legislators calling on the General Assembly to use some of the state's recent $1.6 billion surplus to build additional facilities.

Friday's notice states the desired property for the proposed community corrections facility should be between 5 and 40 acres and generally flat. It must be bordered on at least one side by a paved public roadway, and be in an area that isn't prone to flooding or a significant risk of earthquakes.

Prospective properties also should be close to major medical resources, such as a hospital with an emergency department, and located in a relatively populated area for staff recruitment considerations.

Completed questionnaires must be received by the Department of Corrections no later than February 23. Proposals will be evaluated and submitted to the Arkansas Board of Corrections for selection.

Earlier this month the Department of Corrections issued a separate public notice for submissions from communities interested in donating land for the construction of a new maximum-security prison facility that would house approximately 1,000 inmates within the Division of Corrections.

The department requested that potential locations for the maximum-security facility be approximately 400 acres, not prone to flooding, and in close proximity to a hospital and adequate utilities. It cannot be within 60 miles of an existing correctional facility operated by the Division of Correction or the Division of Community Correction.

The facility is expected to have an estimated budget of $2 million and will employee 370 people with an annual payroll of approximately $21 million.

Plans also are in the works for the Board of Corrections to create three committees tasked with studying various topics surrounding prison expansion. The move came after Department of Corrections Secretary Solomon Graves told board members earlier this month that expansion of the North Central Unit in Calico Rock and the proposed construction of the 1,000-bed prison facility wouldn't adequately address future needs.

Graves has said recent projections indicate if the inmate population continues to grow by 1.3% annually, the correction system will need an additional 2,200 beds by 2032. Currently the system has 14,640 beds and Community Corrections maintains another 1,343 beds.

Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin, who was elected attorney general in the general election earlier this month, emphasized during his campaign the need for stricter parole and probation guidelines, construction of a new prison and a revamped parole system to fight rising crime across the state. He has said he plans to work with legislators to get a new prison facility built.

State Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, and Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, said Griffin and state legislators have discussed Griffin's ideas for criminal justice and that announcements are expected in the coming weeks.