Pris­ons’ di­rec­tor re­views three dis­tur­bances

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - JOHN MORITZ AND EMMA PET­TIT

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son said af­ter meet­ing with his pris­ons chief Fri­day that he ex­pects “dis­ci­plinary ac­tion” to re­sult from a string of vi­o­lent in­ci­dents that left one in­mate dead and sev­eral guards in­jured.

De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion Di­rec­tor Wendy Kel­ley briefed the gov­er­nor Fri­day af­ter­noon on the three dis­tur­bances at two high-se­cu­rity lock­ups that oc­curred over a two-week pe­riod.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Hutchin­son said in a state­ment that prison poli­cies had been bro­ken.

Hutchin­son told re­porters ear­lier in the day that he has

“100 per­cent” con­fi­dence in Kel­ley’s lead­er­ship. She has led the pris­ons de­part­ment through­out his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Last week, pris­ons of­fi­cials dis­closed that two guards were in­jured in late July while in­ter­ven­ing in a re­ported stab­bing at the Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Unit in Tucker.

On Mon­day, six in­mates were able to over­power guards and briefly take over an area of that prison. It was later re­vealed through of­fi­cials’ text mes­sages that the pris­on­ers had ac­cess to what ap­peared to be a hand­cuff key while be­ing trans­ported by bus to a more se­cure prison.

On Thurs­day, the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion an­nounced that a pris­oner died as a re­sult of an as­sault nearly two weeks ear­lier at the Tucker Unit, a sep­a­rate fa­cil­ity lo­cated within eye­sight of the Max Unit.

The in­ci­dents have brought at­ten­tion to staffing is­sues at Arkansas’ pris­ons, where more than 14 per­cent of se­cu­rity po­si­tions were va­cant in July.

When asked about the vi­o­lence at the Tucker pris­ons, Hutchin­son said they con­cerned him, and he also pointed to staffing is­sues, which he called “sig­nif­i­cant.”

Hutchin­son said he would con­tinue to look at ways to at­tract and main­tain staff at pris­ons, af­ter statewide em­ployee pay raises were en­acted ear­lier this year.

Asked about his con­fi­dence in Kel­ley’s per­for­mance, Hutchin­son did not hes­i­tate.

“She’s do­ing a great job,” Hutchin­son told a clus­ter of re­porters in Lit­tle Rock on Fri­day morn­ing. “She’s good, she’s de­voted, she fol­lows my ini­tia­tives, she’s tough, she’s the right prison di­rec­tor for us, ab­so­lutely.”

Af­ter Hutchin­son met with Kel­ley at the Capi­tol later in the day, his of­fice re­leased a state­ment say­ing the pub­lic was never in dan­ger, specif­i­cally dur­ing the takeover at the Max Unit.

But the events un­der­scored the dan­ger posed to corrections of­fi­cers, the state­ment said.

“It ap­pears that the poli­cies in place were ad­e­quate but not fol­lowed. Based upon my con­ver­sa­tion with Di­rec­tor Kel­ley, I ex­pect dis­ci­plinary ac­tion to be taken; how­ever, we will wait on a fi­nal de­ci­sion un­til the review has been com­pleted,” Hutchin­son’s state­ment read.

In a phone call af­ter the meet­ing, Kel­ley said she had pro­vided an overview of the in­ci­dents, and of­fered to give

the gov­er­nor more in­for­ma­tion af­ter in­ter­nal re­views were com­pleted. She said the gov­er­nor asked whether the in­ci­dents were han­dled in a man­ner con­sis­tent with fed­eral stan­dards.

A pris­ons spokesman later said it did not ap­pear feder- al reg­u­la­tions were vi­o­lated dur­ing any of the events.

Ear­lier in the week, Hutchin­son’s of­fice said he had spo­ken with Kel­ley to re­ceive updates as the six in­mates at the Max Unit spoke to ne­go­tia­tors be­fore sur­ren­der­ing.

Talk­ing with re­porters, Hutchin­son said he was also no­ti­fied about the pair of July in­ci­dents at the Tucker and Max units the day each oc­curred, though the in­ci­dents only be­came pub­lic more than a week later.

On July 22, two guards were in­jured as they re­sponded to a stab­bing in the soli­tary con­fine­ment area in the Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Unit, and three warn­ing shots were fired.

The Arkansas Times first re­ported the in­ci­dent July 31, and the Arkansas State Po­lice said it had been in­ves­ti­gat­ing, but had not been told of the warn­ing shots.

A July 28 as­sault at the Tucker Unit left 25-year-old in­mate John De­moret in the hospi­tal. The de­part­ment re­ported the as­sault Thurs­day af­ter De­moret, who was serv­ing a 10-year sen­tence for man­slaugh­ter, died at a Malvern-area hospi­tal.

“I’m con­cerned about any deaths in prison as well as any break­out of vi­o­lence there,” Hutchin­son said Fri­day. “That’s one of the rea­sons we have state po­lice train­ing as back­ups.”

State po­lice have said they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing each of the in­ci­dents sep­a­rately. The De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion has not said that the in­ci­dents are con­nected.

Kel­ley told the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette on Thurs­day that the six in­mates who were able to take over an area of the Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity Unit asked to be trans­ferred to the Varner Su­per­max prison, which they later were. She said she had not re­ceived any prior warn­ings about safety at the prison.

Trou­ble main­tain­ing a prison work­force pre­dates Kel­ley’s ten­ure atop the de­part­ment. Ac­cord­ing to data re­leased ear­lier this year, the num­ber of un­filled po­si­tions has more than dou­bled since 2012, as the state’s econ­omy im­proved and job­less­ness fell.

Also dur­ing her ten­ure, Kel­ley over­saw the first ex­e­cu­tions to be car­ried out in the state in more than a decade, at Hutchin­son’s di­rec­tion.


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