At the direction of Governor Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas Department of Correction is announcing an action plan to address safety concerns within the state’s prison system following incidents at several maximum security facilities, according to a news release issued late Tuesday afternoon.
The three action items are:Continue the renovations of recreation areas and begin the upgrade of security equipment in entrance buildings, and other areas, throughout the department.Construct controlled access points inside the entrances to general population barracks at all maximum security facilities (East Arkansas Regional, Varner, Cummins, and the Maximum Security Unit) to increase their security.Convert approximately 400 existing cells throughout the department, currently used as general population housing, into restrictive housing for inmates found guilty of disciplinary violations. This is will increase the capacity of the department to house inmates found guilty of disciplinary violations which pose a direct threat to the safety of persons or a clear threat to the safe and secure operations of the facility.
The ADC will now begin the process of reallocating existing resources for the implementation of these action items, the news release said.
ADC Director Wendy Kelley said that “the mission of the Department of Correction is to provide a safe and humane environment for staff and inmates. This plan will increase the safety in our maximum security facilities. We look forward to the opportunity to continue our work with the Board of Corrections, governor’s office, and general assembly on strengthening the department’s ability to carry out its mission.”
Hutchinson released the following statement in support of ADC’s action plan, saying, “I appreciate Director Kelley’s swift action per my request for options to better safeguard our prison facilities and reduce the violence within. Based upon my discussions with her, these are items that should be started immediately, while we consider additional and longer-term options in the weeks and months ahead.”
Benny Magness, chairman of the board of corrections, said of the action plan: “These items will, without a doubt, increase the security of the Department of Correction. The Board of Corrections looks forward to their implementation and to the discussion of additional items with the department and the governor.”
One guard at Varner sustained a single, unspecified injury in a late-September attack, while another suffered multiple lacerations. Both were treated and released from an area hospital, Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said. The guard attacked at the Maximum Security Unit sustained multiple injuries to the face and head and remained hospitalized. Several inmates at Varner who had barricaded themselves in a barrack after the assault there were also hospitalized after officers used nonlethal force on them, authorities said.
The department has said the attacks appear to be unrelated.
The assaults follow two other disturbances at the Maximum Security Unit — also known as Tucker Max — in recent months. In August, several inmates held three guards hostage after snatching their keys and a Taser and a month before that, a guard fired warning shots into the air after two guards and an inmate were attacked there. Other incidents elsewhere include a disturbance where inmates broke windows and damaged windows at the Cummins Unit and the fatal assault of an inmate at another facility this summer.
Varner is one of four prisons where lawmakers last month approved raising hazard pay, a move that correction officials said was needed to fill vacancies. Nearly a third of the 305 authorized security positions at Varner were vacant as of Thursday, according to the Department of Correction, while roughly a fifth of the 203 security position at the Tucker Max unit were vacant.