If approved, the proposed 2,050-bed prison would be the state's largest, topping the 1,725-bed Cummins Unit near Grady.

The Arkansas Department of Correction is considering building a new, $160 million prison to help the state deal with its increasing prison population.
If approved, the proposed 2,050-bed prison would be the state's largest, topping the 1,725-bed Cummins Unit near Grady.
Larry Norris, director of the Department of Correction, unveiled the proposal Tuesday at a meeting in Norfork of the Board of Corrections. Norris said the department doesn't yet know where the prison would be located or from where the funding would come.
Since June 1998, the state's inmate population has grown by 37 percent, from 10,689 to 14,705 as of Tuesday. The state has 13,636 available beds, and prisoners are kept in county jail cells until a state bed becomes available.
County sheriffs say the backup of state prisoners takes up much-needed space for city and county inmates.
"The more we can get out of here, the better off we'll be," said John Rehrauer, a spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office. In Pulaski County, the jail is closed to nonviolent offenders. Rehrauer says 131 of the county's 940 inmates are state prisoners awaiting beds.
The crunch will be eased a bit next year, when the state finishes an 854-bed expansion to the Ouachita River Unit near Malvern.
If approved, the new prison would employ about 500 people. But Corrections Board Chairman Benny Magness questioned whether the state would be able to find enough employees to staff the prison.
"There's only so many people who want to be a prison guard," he said.
The prison proposal comes as state agencies brace for budget cuts. If the Corrections Board approves the prison, officials would ask the Legislature for funding when lawmakers meet next January.
"With a downturn in the economy right now, I'd be really skeptical of where they're going to get the money," House Speaker Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
If funding is approved next session, the prison could be finished by August 2014, Norris said.
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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,
http://www.arkansasonline.com