Arkansas pris­ons chief says va­cant po­si­tions a chal­lenge

El Dorado News-Times - - Local -

LIT­TLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas' prison sys­tem is strug­gling with a high num­ber of va­can­cies as the de­part­ment tries to ad­dress a vi­o­lent rash of in­ci­dents that have in­cluded at­tacks on guards by in­mates, the state's correction chief told law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day.

Arkansas De­part­ment of Correction of­fi­cials told a leg­isla­tive panel that more than 300 of the 4,700 po­si­tions in the state's prison sys­tem re­main va­cant, and re­tain­ing the em­ploy­ees has been a prob­lem along with lur­ing ap­pli­cants. The of­fi­cials spoke a day af­ter an­nounc­ing a se­ries of se­cu­rity up­grades they're tak­ing in re­sponse to re­cent prison vi­o­lence.

"There aren't a lot of peo­ple bang­ing down the doors want­ing to come to work for us," De­part­ment Di­rec­tor Wendy Kel­ley said. "But we do hire a lot of peo­ple. They just don't choose to stay."

Kel­ley said she isn't cer­tain whether proper staffing lev­els would have made a dif­fer­ence in some of the dis­tur­bances re­cently at the state's pris­ons.

The dis­tur­bances have in­cluded the as­sault of three guards by in­mates at two fa­cil­i­ties on the same day last month. Oth­ers in­clude an Au­gust in­ci­dent at the Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Unit in Tucker — also known as Tucker Max — where in­mates held three guards hostage af­ter tak­ing keys and a Taser. A month ear­lier, a guard at the same prison fired warn­ing shots into the air af­ter two guards and an in­mate were at­tacked there.

The up­grades an­nounced by the de­part­ment in­clude ren­o­va­tions to the sin­gle-per­son pens in­mates use for recre­ation breaks. The de­part­ment had al­ready said it planned to re­place the Tucker Max recre­ation pens af­ter Kel­ley

said the July and Au­gust in­ci­dents there be­gan when in­mates man­aged to es­cape the chain-link pens. The de­part­ment is also in­creas­ing the num­ber of re­stric­tive hous­ing cells for in­mates with dis­ci­plinary vi­o­la­tions.

Kel­ley said the de­part­ment also is dis­cussing longer-term pro­pos­als to bring be­fore law­mak­ers later, in­clud­ing nam­ing a prose­cu­tor or deputy prose­cu­tor to han­dle cases in­volv­ing pris­ons. Cur­rently, those cases are han­dled by the lo­cal prose­cu­tor where the prison fa­cil­ity is lo­cated.

"It would help us to re­spond more quickly to the in­ci­dents as they oc­cur," Kel­ley said.

Arkansas State Po­lice of­fi­cials told the panel that they've investigated 16 cases of in­mate-on-in­mate as­sault and bat­tery so far this year, and 28 as­sault and bat­tery cases by in­mates on prison staff. State Po­lice said last year investigated 14 in­mate-on-in­mate cases and 29 in­mate-on-staff cases.

Kel­ley said other lon­grange pro­pos­als may in­clude ask­ing law­mak­ers to fund hol­i­day pay for prison em­ploy­ees, which is cur­rently funded by sav­ings from un­filled po­si­tions. The pro­posal would al­low the de­part­ment to use those sav­ings in­stead to in­crease haz­ard pay for some prison em­ploy­ees.

State Sen. Joyce El­liott, who co-chairs the panel over­see­ing the prison sys­tem, said af­ter the hear­ing she needs more an­swers on the in­ci­dents and what led to the dis­tur­bances.

"Is this is a sys­temic prob­lem or is this four months of anom­alies?" she told re­porters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.