Surrounded by employees of the Arkansas Department of Correction and and members of its board, family members of the late Barbara Ester cut a ribbon to formally dedicate the state’s first reentry facility Wednesday morning. The facility is named in Ester’s honor.
Ester was a Corporal at the department’s East Arkansas Unit at Brickey’s when she was killed in the line of duty by an inmate on Jan. 20,2012.
“Jan. 20, 2012 was a sad day because we lost one of our family members,” Dr. William “Dub” Byers, a member of the correction board, said during a ceremony at the chapel of the new unit, which is formally called the Diagnostic Unit located at Pine Bluff. “For that brief moment, it seemed like the bad guys won and the good guys lost.”
Byers said that the death happened because “there is evil in the world. God didn’t cause it but it can be used for good.”
According to a press release from DOC spokesman Solomon Graves, the Barbara Ester Unit will allow inmates to complete work on their GED and other programs, such as “Preparing for Success,” which attempts to prepare inmates about to be released from prison to transition back into society and enhance their chances of staying out of prison.
In addition, the program includes the National Institute of Corrections’ Thinking for a Change (T4C) curriculum, Anger Management, Substance Abuse Education and employment skills.
According to the press release, T4C “is an evidence-based curriculum designed to improve an inmate’s social skills, provide cognitive self-change methods and improve problem solving skills.”
Inmates who are housed at the Satellite Unit in Pulaski County are provided job skills training through the Arkansas Department of Career Education’s Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy program and Goodwill of Arkansas. Plans are underway to provide those and other programs at the Ester Unit.
“If we could change the past we would,” Byers said. “Since we can’t change the past we can use her legacy to change the future.”
Among other things, the Ester Unit includes the department’s first Veteran’s Barracks, which houses inmates who have served in the armed forces, and currently, each branch of service is represented in the barracks.
Graves said in the press release that each day, the veterans ceremoniously raise and lower the American and Arkansas flags in the veteran’s yard, which they designed and constructed.
The Ester Unit currently holds 380 inmates, and when the last phase of construction is completed in the spring of 2017, it will hold approximately 580 inmates.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Ester’s daughter, Correction Board Chairman Benny Magness, Wendy Kelley, the director of the Department of Correction and the warden of the Pine Bluff Unit.