Arkansas legislators approve $136 million contract for private prison

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas lawmakers have signed a $136 million contract to house as many as 500 prisoners at a privately run jail facility. 

The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday approved the 20-year contract with Drew and Bradley counties to house inmates at the facility that will be operated by Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections. 

Under the plan, the counties are contracting directly with LaSalle. The private prison company owns 18 correctional facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. Those prisons have a combined “total inmate capacity of over 13,000.”

The facility will also house between 100 and 150 prisoners from the counties.

On Twitter, state Representative Nicole Clowney (D-Fayetteville) said that “poor prison conditions lead to higher rates of recidivism.” 

“The LaSalle facility in Texarkana, [Texas] has a documented history of exactly these types of poor conditions– deaths, failure to conduct cell checks, to provide medical care. On and on,” she said.

In a recent report by Tegna affiliate WFAA, inmate Holly Austin got critically ill at the Bi-State Jail, which is run by LaSalle, and was “blind” and “unable” to sign her name on paperwork when she was sent to the hospital.

Austin later died and the jail “was not required to report her death to state officials nor was her death criminally investigated.”

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A WFAA investigation found that LaSalle was using a loophole that allows jails to avoid criminal investigations into inmate deaths “who became critically ill while in custody.”

“The loophole allows authorities to release a prisoner, and then when they die, there is no requirement that a criminal investigation be conducted or that potential evidence be preserved,” the report said.

Previous investigations by WFAA led to state lawmakers closing a loophole that “allowed county jailers to be on the job for up to a year with virtually no training.”

No private adult lockups have operated in Arkansas since 2001.

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