County, city officials considering idea of new prison

The Arkansas Department of Corrections is looking statewide for a place to build a new prison and Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said the county “wouldn’t turn its back” if corrections officials decided to locate the prison here.

“We can’t turn down any kind of economic growth,” King said. “We need the jobs.”

According to a legal notice that was sent to The Commercial by the DOC, the proposed new prison would initially house 1,000 maximum security inmates and would be constructed so that it could be expanded to 2,000 beds. Construction is expected to cost $100 million.

“If anybody knows about running jails, we ought to know about running jails,” King said.

Currently, the Department of Corrections operates facilities at Tucker and the Pine Bluff Unit and has announced plans to reopen the former Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff within the next two years. The department of Community Corrections also maintains a facility in Pine Bluff.

The legal notice said the new prison will initially generate 250 jobs with an average salary of $12.75 per hour with an average annual budget of about $19 million. After expansion, there will be about 500 jobs with an annual budget of about $38 million.

Contacted Friday, Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said she had not heard about the DOC search but said she would “love to look at it.

“We would be glad to work with them and see what it (the plan) entails,” Hollingsworth said.

The legal notice is asking interested communities to submit an Expression of Interest proposal to donate property for the new facility. The location should include at least 400 acres and be roughly square and generally flat, and one paved roadway on one side of the site is also desired. Also, the site should be close to community and major medical resources and to adequate utilities as well as to population centers for staff recruitment consideration and a university/college/community college for staff retention and development.

In addition to the legal notice, DOC also sent The Commercial a copy of the Expression of Interest form, which asks for information about the community, including the percentage of residents commuting out of the area, non-area residents commuting into the community, education levels of the workforce, average wages per hour and additional incentives that might be available to the DOC.

Applications must be submitted to the DOC no later than Oct. 24 and the Board of Corrections will select the site for the new prison.

“I’m going to talk to the [Jefferson County] Quorum Court and see what they think,” King said. “We need all the revenue we can get.”