WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — As a cost saving measure, the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center in Pine Bluff, will soon move to the Crittenden County Hospital building in the community of West Memphis. The state is leasing the former hospital from the county for $1 per year as part of a plan approved by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on March 25.
The move will impact approximately 350 nonviolent female inmates now being held at the Pine Bluff facility as well as 138 staff members, including correctional officers, administrators and medical staff. However, Arkansas Online reports that only 10 to 15 percent of current employees are expected to participate in the transfer and take jobs at the new facility.
In a letter to the state’s Community Correction Director Sheila Sharp and Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness, Hutchinson wrote that the agency would make great efforts to meet the employment needs of all the Southeast Arkansas Community Correction Center staff, regardless of whether or not they chose to relocate, with the help of state human resources directors. Relocation funding could also be made available to employees through the Arkansas Association of Correctional Employees Trust.
Further defending the decision to relocate the facility despite the impact to employees, Gov. Hutchinson wrote to Magness and Sharp that “the change is in the best interest of the state and its financial constraints.” The governor noted that the approximately 35 buildings that comprise the Pine Bluff campus are in need of extensive repairs costing millions of dollars. However, an estimated $650,000 will still have to be spent to bring the Crittenden County Hospital building, which has been shuttered since August 2014, up to correctional standards.
Former patient rooms in the 50-year-old facility will be converted to hold four inmates each, and a portion of the improvement funds will also be dedicated to roof repairs and water damaged areas. The facility’s gymnasium will be retrofitted to serve as a new visitation space, according to Arkansas Online, and surveillance equipment and correctional grade doors and windows must be installed.
"The financial consideration of the state in leasing the facility and investing to retrofit it for community correction purpose outweighs expenditure of taxpayer dollars to mend [the Pine Bluff facility’s] many flaws," Hutchinson wrote to Magness and Sharp. "To move the female residents of that facility to a single building where they may live and work toward rehabilitation under one roof, as well as to increase the likelihood that their services will be increased and enhanced, is an opportunity that the state must seize while it can.”