About 175 inmates who are currently being housed in Little Rock will be transferred to the Barbara Ester Unit at Pine Bluff in the next few months, according to Arkansas Department of Correction Spokesman Solomon Graves.
On Thursday, Graves said the inmates, who are locked up at the Wrightsville satellite unit at the Pulaski County Jail, will be moved after the department told Little Rock it intended to cancel its yearly $1 lease.
In addition to the inmates currently housed at Little Rock, Graves said another 10 or so will also be transferred to Pine Bluff, as will 31 corrections officers assigned there. The department will also add 10 new positions for a total of 41.
When the Ester Unit, which is still under construction, is completed, it will have the capacity to house 580 inmates.
“When we signed the lease, it was at the height of the inmate population increase that resulted in changes in the parole policy,” Graves said.
The Ester Unit, which was formerly called the Diagnostic Unit, began housing inmates in 2015 and is expected to be completed by late March, adding about 200 beds.
The Little Rock satellite unit houses parole violators and prisoners within six months of their release date, the same function as the Ester Unit, Graves said.
While there are funds available to finish construction on the unit, the state does not have enough officers to staff both the Ester Unit and the Wrightsville satellite unit, and the Department of Correction does not have funds to hire more.