LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas Senate on Monday approved a key part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to ease prison overcrowding by clearing the way for the state to partner with county jails on regional facilities and to expand alternative sentencing options.
By a 33-0 vote, the Senate approved the legislation aimed at easing the backlog of more than 2,600 state inmates at county jails around Arkansas. Hutchinson, a Republican, last month unveiled a $33 million plan to open up hundreds of new prison beds and overhaul the state's corrections system.
"I hope and trust it will impact what's really at the root of the problem, and that's people's behavior," said Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsored the legislation. Hutchinson is the governor's nephew.
The legislation, which now heads to the House, also allows inmates to apply for Medicaid benefits and provides avenues for them to enroll in drug and alcohol programs. Law enforcement officers would be able to conduct warrantless searches of parolees under the change. Hutchinson said the bill will be amended in the House to spell out protocols for the warrantless searches to prevent any potential abuse.
The governor has called for tapping $33 million in state reserve funds to open up nearly 800 prison beds, including some at a county jail in neighboring Texas. The funding for the beds is included in separate legislation.
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