The Arkansas Department of Correction will open its state-of-the-art special needs facility in January at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern. The Board of Corrections on Tuesday approved the move of 400-plus beds from the Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff to Malvern.
The move will result in the temporary closing of the Pine Bluff diagnostic facility. ADC does not have the funds to operate both facilities, so the decision was made to utilize the new space at ORCU. The long-time goal for the unit in Pine Bluff is to renovate and reopen it at a later date.
ADC is working to make the transition as easy as possible for the existing staff and is adhering to state workforce policies, including notification of the state’s chief fiscal officer, the Office of Personnel Management and the personnel subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislature.
The department’s plan is to reassign 175 budgeted positions of the Diagnostic Unit to the new special needs facility. Eight positions will remain at the Pine Bluff Complex because their jobs serve functions at two other units.
ADC Director Ray Hobbs and his staff began meeting with Diagnostic Unit employees Tuesday night to explain the move and options available to them. For those employees choosing to transfer to Malvern, ADC will provide a shuttle bus, which will be free of charge for one year. After that, employees who continue to ride the shuttle will be charged a small monthly fee.
Employees who choose not to transfer will have the opportunity to relocate to any of the agency’s six surrounding units, which have vacancies. Other local units include Pine Bluff and Randall Williams Correctional Facility. Cummins, Varner, Tucker and the Maximum Security Units are all near Pine Bluff.
“This is a great opportunity for our employees to work in a brand new facility, which is the first of its kind in the country,” said Hobbs. “We hope most employees will choose to make the move. If they don’t, we have other places they can go. No one has to lose their job.”
The department’s medical provider, Corizon, will also relocate staff to Malvern. The company is projecting that 48 positions will be moved. These employees also will be able to ride the ADC shuttle from Pine Bluff to Malvern.
Male intake, sheltered living, special programs and permanent bed assignments will be moved to Malvern. Also, sheltered living beds and special management beds from the Randall Williams facility will be moved, bringing the total number of inmates moved to more than 400.
The special needs unit has been under construction since 2006. The addition will house 744 inmates and include a 72-bed hospital and 40-bed special services area. With the opening of the new addition, ORCU will house a total of 1,690 inmates.
To prepare for the move, ADC will temporarily halt the intake of male inmates from the counties. The stoppage should be brief, lasting only a week or two. The state’s sheriffs will be notified of the dates in the coming days.
The agency is in the process of preparing computers and data lines for the transition. Plans are also underway to transfer the inmates and their property at the appropriate time. The move is not unprecedented. Over the years, as the agency has opened new prisons, it has transported large numbers of inmates to new locations. The inmate movement will be spread out over several days.
“We move inmates all the time,” said Hobbs. “We expect a smooth transition and we are already working out the logistics. Everything from Diagnostic is going to the special needs unit, from people to paper clips.”
Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern
Special Needs Unit barracks
Special Needs Unit dental office