Arkansas governor, attorney general urge corrections board to approve 500 new prison beds


Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Attorney General Tim Griffin urged the state Board of Corrections Friday to approve 500 temporary prison beds, sharply criticizing the panel for not moving forward with an effort to alleviate overcrowding.

Sanders urged the board to hold an emergency meeting to reconsider her administration’s request for the temporary space. The state’s prisons are currently holding 16,292 inmates, exceeding its capacity of 15,022, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.

Nearly 1,900 additional state inmates are being held in county jails, a backup that sheriffs around the state have long complained about.

“All that stands between us and a safer, stronger Arkansas is bureaucratic red tape,” the Republican governor said at a news conference at the state Capitol with lawmakers. “It’s time for the Board of Corrections to do what is needed to protect our people.”

State prison officials last week asked the Board to approve 622 temporary beds, and the panel only OK’d 130 beds at two facilities. The board declined to comment Friday on the governor’s remarks.

During the meeting Nov. 6, Corrections Board members said they needed more information on the request and the impact it would have on the facilities. The panel approved placing 60 temporary beds in a gymnasium at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit and 70 beds at the North Central Unit — putting 5 beds each in 14 existing barracks at the facility.

The comments from Sanders and Griffin were an unusually public criticism of the the seven-member appointed board overseeing prisons and its chairman, Benny Magness, by the state’s top elected officials. Griffin said the move made the public less safe and suggested it may warrant statutory or constitutional changes regarding the panel.

“Expand the beds, Mr. Chairman, so we can all be safer,” Griffin said.

The comments also come after Magness, who had endorsed Sanders’ bid for governor, testified in the Legislature against portions of a sentencing overhaul measure that was a top agenda item for the governor in this year’s legislative session.

The new law, which Sanders signed in April, eliminates parole eligibility for certain violent offenders. Sanders has also set aside money for a 3,000-bed prison to help address overcrowding.