NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday he is committed to finding funds during the current legislative session for additional prison space to relieve prison overcrowding.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday he is committed to finding funds during the current legislative session for additional prison space to relieve prison overcrowding.


"At first I thought, well maybe we can delay this to down the road, maybe have a special session later on, have more time to look at the solution," Hutchinson said in a speech to the Arkansas County Judges Association in North Little Rock.


"But clearly, based upon my conversations with you, action is needed now," he said. "There’s an urgency here. So I will be asking the Legislature to take up this issue before we go home."


The statement drew loud applause from the group.


Hutchinson said he hopes to avoid building a new 1,000-bed prison, however. State prison officials have said a new prison is needed, but Hutchinson has not included funding for a new prison in his proposed balanced budget, and legislative leaders say the idea lacks support from lawmakers.


"The solution that we come up with should not be limited to additional prison space," Hutchinson said. "The solution that we come up with and provide to the Legislature has to include an effort to change behavior. I feel very strongly about this, because I have no doubt that unless we change behavior then we’re going to be building a 1,000(-bed) new prison followed by another 1,000-bed new prison."


Hutchinson’s noted that his proposed budget includes $1 million for drug treatment courts, including veterans’ drug treatment courts; $300,000 for new programs to help people re-enter society; and $1.9 million to raise the reimbursement to county jails housing state prisoners — about 2,500 prisoners currently — from $28 per day to $30 per day.


Talking to reporters after his speech, Hutchinson said he hopes to have a plan for adding prison space "in the coming weeks."


He said he is looking at a variety of options and will work with the Legislature on a plan.


"Part of it will be expanding existing facilities," he said. ‘There’s another option for some temporary solutions. There’s another option long-term for some regional facilities that we’re speaking of with the counties today."


Also a factor will be how closely the Legislature sticks to his budget proposal, Hutchinson said.


"If there’s additional appropriations that are passed or more spending initiatives or more tax cuts, then that impacts our ability to address this challenge," he said.


Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said Monday that funding new prison space will have to be balanced with other state needs and spending priorities.


"We’ll just have to see where the membership is on setting it as a priority," he said.