Prevention Is the Best Medicine for Arkansas Prison Fences

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Prevention is the best medicine, or so goes the adage, which looks like it will soon be applied to four Arkansas prisons. However, the concept isn’t being applied to inmate healthcare but rather to preventing breakouts, which have plagued facilities like the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker, Ark., in recent months.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that two disturbances occurred at the facility, one in July 2017 and another the following August. One included a hostage situation in which three officers were held captive by inmates, preceded by the successful escape of inmates from solitary, fenced-in recreation areas.

“We have done some targeted welding at the joints of the existing pens to reduce the risk for that separation,” Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) spokesperson Solomon Graves told the AP. “But that just gets us to the point of replacement.”

To wit, the state’s top correction official, Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley, appealed to lawmakers in late October 2017 for funds to upgrade the fences of four facilities. The Board of Corrections earlier this month approved spending for upgrades to the tune of $3.5 million, which will come from the Prison Construction Trust Fund Balance, a fund overseen by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. Prior to the approval, the fund held approximately $6.5 million.

Funds to bolster staffing efforts were also requested, which will include a grant of  $2.5 million for guard overtime pay. Monies might also address a burgeoning inmate accommodation problem. The ADC produced a report it shared with the Board of Corrections during a recent meeting that indicated that there are presently only 547 vacancies across its system. Additionally, employee retention has proven difficult as there were 115 terminations but only 68 hires in September 2017. There are currently 300 correctional officer openings in the system.

“I appreciate Director Kelley’s swift action per my request for options to better safeguard our prison facilities and reduce the violence within,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “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.”