City to take state to court over halfway houses

The city of Pine Bluff is preparing to take the State Department of Community Corrections to court over the department’s decision not to seek zoning approval for a halfway house complex on community corrections property on the west side of the city.

City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said Monday her office is looking at a number of Attorney General’s opinions, as well as state statutes dealing with the issue.

Earlier this month, the Pine Bluff City Council authorized Hadden-Scott to go to court if the the state refused to appear before the Planning Commission, and last Monday, Corrections Board Chairman Benny Magness said the board didn’t need the approval of the city.

Magness said the property where the halfway houses will be located is already used by the department for correctional purposes and “wouldn’t change because some particulars might.”

The department announced plans to convert four duplexes to halfway houses for 32 state prison parolees who had no place to go or family to live with, and indicated that violent or sexual offenders could possibly included in that group, although adding that no final decision had been made on who would be housed at the facility, or how long they would be allowed to stay there.

Community Corrections spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp said earlier this month that the inmates housed at the facility will be required to work, pay rent and support themselves. They would not be supervised 24 hours per day, but the halfway houses would be surrounded by a fence, and officers from the women’s facility located on the same property would provide security. There will also be increased lighting and security cameras, she said.

Hadden-Scott said that because the council has authorized her to take the matter to court, she will follow their instructions and file suit within the next week or so.

“We want to make sure we have everything lined out before we file the suit,” she said.