Officials Question AR Prison Operations after String of Incidents

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Behind prison walls, there are questions many people want answered.

"This seems to be a systemic problem" says Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock).

Patrick Ryan was sentenced to the Arkansas Department of Correction's (DOC) Cummins Unit, a maximum security prison, in 2000.

He says conditions have not changed since then.

"The food was no good, the sleeping arrangements -- you sleep on a steel bed with a mat about this thin. No pillow, a single blanket--even if it's cold," says Ryan.

Elliott says if a system is running properly a rash of violence should not happen.

"It makes me even more concerned when I see what appears to me evidence of a system not working as it should, even in the interest of the people working there," adds Elliott.

At the Tucker Unit in July, some inmates escaped their recreational pen and assaulted two officers. The Arkansas Times reports prison staff fired warning shots.

In August, several prisoners took over part of the Tucker Unit.

Last week, an inmate at the Cummins Unit died from a head injury. It's unclear if that inmate was assaulted. On Thursday, two correctional officers were attacked, being left injured, with several other inmates.

"I just know that the ultimate responsibility ends at the Director's office,"  Elliott continues.

On Friday, Governor Asa Hutchinson confirmed he met with DOC Director Wendy Kelley.

“It causes me great concern that inmates attacked and injured Correctional Officers at the Tucker Maximum Security Unit and the Varner Unit. The multiple incidences in the past few months of violence indicates there is a need for additional safeguards.  I have met with Director Wendy Kelley and Board of Corrections’ Chairman Benny Magness, and I have asked Director Kelley for an action plan with options to address the problem and to ensure order and safety in the prison system. Director Kelley and her team have my full support as they address this challenge." 

The questions may be simple but the answers may be more complex.

"Our society depends on this agency being successful," says Elliott.

An DOC spokesperson released the following statement:
The mission of the Department of Correction is to provide for the public’s safety in part by providing a safe and humane environment for staff and inmates. We look forward to the opportunity to work with Senator Elliott, and the entire General Assembly, on strengthening the Department’s ability to carry out its mission.

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