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Protests erupt over prison expansion during Gov. Hutchinson's final State of the State address

Protestors began chanting "no new cages" in reference to the proposed prison expansion during Gov. Hutchinson's final State of the State address.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Asa Hutchinson was in the middle of his final State of the State address Monday, Feb. 14, when protestors began to shout from the balcony in the Arkansas State Capitol. 

As the governor began speaking about prison expansion in Arkansas, protestors began chanting "no new cages." Around 50 protestors were quickly ushered away but remained outside the State Capitol with signs opposing the almost 500 inmate facility expansion at Calico Rock

Gov. Hutchinson says the need for prison expansion has nothing to do with incarceration policies. He says our state is simply growing in population. 

Arkansas Justice Reform Coalition co-founder Sarah Moore says she and her group traveled three hours to the State Capitol but were escorted out, some leaving in handcuffs. 

Moore says this prison expansion only expedites the school-to-prison pipeline, saying we should instead focus and advocate on getting Arkansans the mental health help they need instead of arresting them.

“We know that the defacto place where people are getting any level of mental healthcare are in the prison and jail system. That shouldn’t be the case. To get those life-saving measures,” Moore said. “We continue to do the same thing, we're going to continue to get the same results.”  

Moore says they didn't feel welcomed in the Capitol and need lawmakers to understand it is the "people's house."

“And we just think as a community, as Arkansans across the state, that money could be better invested in the community to keep us all safe by uplifting everyone,” Moore said when explaining how that state could better repurpose those funds.

“Just shutting out the people is not the answer. There has to be a better solution to this,” Moore said in response to the protestor being handcuffed at the capitol.

After the protestors were escorted out, the governor continued his address saying Arkansas has a record backup of state prisoners in our county jails, which limits the number of officers to help locally. 

Credit: AP
Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Monday, Feb. 14, 2021 at the state Capitol in Little Rock as he delivers his state of the state speech. (Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

Hutchinson also says he wants to support law enforcement throughout the state, working on increasing trust within communities and improving training, equipment and pay for officers. This includes a focus on increased funding for education, healthcare and public safety. 

Gov. Hutchinson says every county and certified law enforcement officer will be given a one-time $5,000 payment, totaling $45 million. That money will come from the state's surplus of funds, according to the governor.

"Currently, our law enforcement is underfunded, underpaid, and underappreciated," Gov. Hutchinson said. "The actions of this General Assembly to fund more, pay more, and to appreciate more will send the unmistakable message that in Arkansas...we support and value our law enforcement partners."

The governor also proposed a $6 billion budget for the upcoming year, saying he wants to increase funding for education, healthcare and public safety.

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