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Hearing set for Dec. 28 in battle over Arkansas prison beds

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(The Center Square) – A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge will hear from attorneys next week in a battle over who is authorized to add beds to the state’s prisons.

The squabble began after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and DOC Secretary Joe Profiri ordered the Board of Corrections to add nearly 500 prison beds to alleviate overcrowding in county jails.

The board said Profiri did not vet his plan, which would cause staffing and security issues.

“Secretary Profiri failed to provide the board with information requested regarding the safety of his plan and he failed to consult with the Compliance Division as to operational adequacy,” the board said in its lawsuit.

A $470 million prison with 3,000 beds is in the planning process, according to Sanders. The Arkansas Sheriff’s Association said in a letter to the governor, the Department of Corrections and the Board of Corrections that the beds are needed now.

“Failure to do so will result in a continuation of the adverse impacts to our county jails, our communities and as well to the state detainees in our county jails for the next three years (until such time as long-term needs for new state prison beds can be fulfilled.),” the group said in the letter posted on the Facebook page of Rep. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett.

Also at issue is a law signed by Sanders this year that puts the corrections secretary under the authority of the governor and not the board

The board also suspended Profiri with pay. Sanders met with Profiri on Friday and said she was confident in the job he is doing, according to a readout of the meeting.

“They also spoke about the Board of Correction’s politically motivated stunts to suspend Secretary Profiri and how this demonstrates the Board’s commitment to protecting the failed status quo instead of doing their job to keep Arkansans safe,” according to the summary. “Governor Sanders instructed Secretary Profiri to continue to implement the Protect Act and end the failed policy of catch and early release of violent offenders.”

The judge granted the order and set a hearing date of Dec. 28.

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