LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday unveiled a plan to address prison overcrowding that involves adding prison beds, hiring new parole and probation officers and investing in re-entry and alternative sentencing programs.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday unveiled a plan to address prison overcrowding that involves adding prison beds, hiring new parole and probation officers and investing in re-entry and alternative sentencing programs.


Hutchinson said he is not proposing building a new prison but is proposing to spend $33 million over the next two years on his multi-faceted approach to the problem.


"This is a significant, significant opportunity for the state of Arkansas and a very substantial investment that taxpayers will make to increase public safety but also to change behavior and increase accountability so that we can make sure that we’re not just simply building more and bigger prisons over the next decade," he said.


Hutchinson’s plan calls for adding 790 beds at various facilities, including 288 in Bowie County, Texas, at a cost to Arkansas of $36 per day.


The governor also proposed adding 48 beds at the Pine Bluff Work Center; 178 beds at the planned Ester Unit in Pine Bluff, formerly known as the Diagnostic Unit; 28 beds at the Tucker Unit; 48 beds at the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern; and 200 beds that the state would create by contracting with various counties.


Hutchinson said his plan also includes hiring 52 new probation and parole officers, support staff and substance abuse treatment managers.


"This will enhance public safety by reducing caseloads. It will enhance public safety by providing for more accountability of those that are on parole," he said.


Hutchinson also said is he proposing spending $5.5 million to create the state’s first transitional re-entry centers, where offenders who are within six months of release could learn work skills and prepare to re-enter society.


The governor said 500 offenders could be transferred to the facilities, easing overcrowding in state prisons.


Hutchinson proposed investing $2.8 million in grants for drug treatment courts and other alternative sentencing programs for non-violent offenders.


He said the costs of his plan in the first two years would be covered by transferring $31 million from the state Insurance Department’s reserve fund and drawing $2.6 million from unclaimed property funds.


Thereafter, the cost of the plan would be incorporated into the state budget, Hutchinson said.


State prison officials had said they wanted $100 million to build a new 1,000-bed prison, but Hutchinson said Wednesday he was "resistant" to that idea and said he had asked correction officials and legislators to help come up with other ideas, a number of which he incorporated into his proposal.


He noted that 2,500 state prisoners are in county jails waiting for prison bed space to become available, and that the state’s prison population is 18,000 — and growing annually by 17 percent, one of the largest growth rates in the nation.


Hutchinson also said that in 2014, there were 10,000 inmates released on parole. At the state’s recidivism rate of 43 percent, that means about 4,300 are likely to return to prison.


"If we reduce that rate of repeat offenders, then we save out state money and we increase public safety," he said. "So I have come up with a plan that costs us money but is a balanced solution for our future."


The state Department of Community Correction issued a statement Wednesday praising the governor’s plan.


"Arkansas is poised to take bold steps toward lessening the growth of its correctional populations by investing in community-based programs. At the same time, the governor’s plan decisively addresses the acute need for additional prison space. Arkansas Community Correction fully supports Governor Hutchinson’s proposals and is excited about the new directions they include," the agency said in the statement.


Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, and Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, who chair the Senate and House judiciary committees, respectively, said they plan to introduce legislation containing key portions of the governor’s plan.


Jeremy Hutchinson, the governor’s nephew, said he believes the biggest problem contributing to prison overcrowding is the probation and parole system, and he said the governor’s plan will address it in three ways — with treatment, new bed space and better enforcement.


"I think it’s a complete package, and I’m very excited about it," he said.


Shepherd said the governor’s plan addresses issues both on the front end, with alternative sentencing , and on the back end, with re-entry programs and greater supervision of released offenders.


"I think it makes a lot of sense," he said.


House Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, said in a statement that Democratic House members were reviewing the proposal and looked forward to providing ideas and input.


"We agree with Governor Hutchinson that the solution does not lie in simply adding more prison space, but it also cannot be solved with criminal justice reforms alone. We must continue investing in programs such as Pre-K and workforce training that lower crime by giving Arkansans an opportunity for a better life," Armstrong said.


Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, chairman of the House Revenue and Tax Committee, said he was glad to see a plan outlined and was interested in getting more detail on certain parts of it, including the proposal to send prisoners to Texas. He also said he wants to know how the plan might impact the possibility of passing more tax cuts.


"There are a lot of moving parts," he said.