The Arkansas Department of Corrections is now accepting proposals for a new 1,000 bed maximum security prison. The prison is estimated to cost about $100 million dollars to build. The department is looking to build on a lot that is at least 400 acres.
The deadline to submit this request is October 24, 2014. This requests information such as any zoning restrictions, environmental issues, access to utilities, tax incentives, access and proximity to health care services, local demographic information, various wage rates and proximity to airports, interstates, and major highways. The form can be found on the website of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
In response, State Senator Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) saw an opportunity to try to create an estimated 250 to 500 new jobs in Southwest Arkansas and meet a real need for the Arkansas. This does not include the economic impact for local construction businesses to actually build the prison.
At the Texarkana, Arkansas City Board of Director’s Meeting on August 5, 2014, State Senator Jimmy Hickey formally requested the Board issue a statement of support to create a coalition to submit a response to a Request for Proposal by the Arkansas Legislature seeking to build a 1,000 bed prison. This was just the first formal request. Both parties have been in discussions for 4-5 months to discuss this opportunity.
Also, influential members of five counties in Southwest Arkansas held a meeting at the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce. The people in attendance were mayors, mayor-elects, county judges, county judges-elect, Arkansas State Representatives, Arkansas State Senators, and a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The goal of the meeting was for these influential members of their communities to go back and get with their economic committees to ask for site locations that meet the specifications required by the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Then, these members will meet again to decide what is best. State Senator Hickey wants to look at this from a regional perspective as opposed to a city or county perspective. He believes that this can benefit all of Southwest Arkansas.
Senator Hickey stated that the Arkansas Legislature is responding to a growing need to house a rising inmate population in Arkansas. The Arkansas State Prison System is over capacity with about 2,200 inmates waiting to be transferred to state prisons as well as 53,000 parolees out on the street. Arkansas experienced a 17.7 percent increase in crime in 2013, which was the highest increase the state’s history. Ray Hobbs, the Director of the State Department of Correction, stated during a joint Judiciary committee that “[t]he trend that we’re seeing is that they’re coming in younger, they’re staying longer, and they’re more violent”. This means there is a need to house more offenders that qualify for maximum security prisons.
Part of the process, according to Senator Hickey, is continuing to decide the best way to solve this problem. The Arkansas Legislature has invited proposals, but its goal is to solve the problem as efficiently as possible. If the best solution is to expand an existing prison or outsourcing to out-of-state privately operated prisons, then these options would be explored more extensively. However, at this time, a new prison is the best option.
Texarkana, Arkansas already has a minimum security prison that houses 128 inmates in the SW AR Community Correction Building.