Arkansas Prisons

prison jail department of correction
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

A new study on how and when states put criminals in prison shows Arkansas falling in the middle for severity of punishment, with a ranking of 20th nationwide.

Yet PEW Charitable Trusts Director Adam Gelb said that’s based on 2013 data, before the Arkansas Board of Correction changed parole rules that sent thousands of newly released inmates back into prisons.

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 A correctional officer assigned to the Varner Unit in Grady has been injured in an attack by an inmate.

Solomon Graves with the Arkansas Department of Corrections said that the officer, who has not been identified, was taken to a hospital Tuesday with injuries that were not considered to be life-threatening and was released.

Authorities say another officer and another inmate intervened in the altercation. Graves said the second inmate suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.

Arkansas Department of Human Services

The head of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s Juvenile Justice Reform Board is disputing an advocacy group’s characterization of the state’s oldest youth facility as “notorious.”

Youth First, a criminal justice reform group, ranked the state’s Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center near Alexander as one of the nation’s 80 worst.

Marcus Devine, Director of Youth Services at the Department of Human Services, said that’s hyperbole.  

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

With the fastest growing prison population in the nation at nearly 17,943 inmates, Arkansas officials are looking at ways to bring down rising costs.

Speaking to the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force Wednesday, Andy Burbee with the Justice Center research group said corrections currently cost the state half a billion dollars a year. He projected that figure would rise to $1.3 billion in a decade if population growth continues.

The group is looking for ways to improve supervision of parolees and to help Arkansas invest in effective programs to counter recidivism.

Objecting to the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that lower-court judges can require that defendants pay their bail only in cash, the high court's chief justice cited a musician seldom thought of as a legal scholar: Johnny Cash.

Interim Chief Justice Howard Brill on Thursday cited Cash's song "Starkville City Jail" in a dissent. He said it was wrong for the majority to deny a Benton County man's objection to a $300,000 cash-only bail set in an assault and battery case.

prison jail department of correction
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

Arkansas inmates will no longer be prohibited from growing facial hair. The state’s Board of Corrections voted Thursday to modify the state’s grooming policy. 

 In 2015 inmates were allowed to grow beards based on sincerely held religious beliefs, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January. The state had argued beards in prison were a security risk. 

According to Department of Corrections spokesperson Cathy Frye, 5,675 inmates cited religious reasons for growing facial hair in 2015.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

A non-profit is forming between Arkansas prison officials, community members, religious leaders, and the Department of Human Services, to address high recidivism rates, and overcrowding in the state’s foster care system.

Arkansas Department of Community Correction Chief Deputy Director Kevin Murphy said the effort is an extension of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s “restore hope” initiative.

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An internet portal called the Good Grid, designed to assist Arkansas's former inmates in their transition back to society, is about to make its official launch. 

 

The story of the Good Grid began in 2011, when Nisha Garimalla was trying to improve her chances of getting into grad school for computer science at Stanford University.

 

McPherson Prison Unit in Newport
Arkansas Department of Correction

A former prison chaplain at an Arkansas women's prison is charged with sexually assaulting three inmates.

Prosecutor Henry Boyce announced Thursday that 50 counts of sexual assault charges had been filed against 67-year-old Kenneth Dewitt. The charging documents allege that DeWitt carried on sexual relationships with three inmates between 2013 and 2014.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney representing Dewitt, says he is making arrangements to turn himself in to authorities.

Attorneys for death row inmates challenging Arkansas' execution secrecy law say the state Supreme Court should not continue to delay the disclosure of key information about the drugs the state plans to use in executions.

Lawyers for the attorney general's office have asked the justices to extend a temporary stay of an order from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffen to give the inmates information about the maker and supplier of the drugs. The state has said it plans to appeal Griffen's overall ruling that the state's secrecy law is unconstitutional.

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