The head of Arkansas’ Board of Corrections says he’s staying despite governor’s call for resignation

Dec 22, 2023, 3:26 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday called for the head of the Board of Corrections to immediately resign in the latest round of a dispute over who runs the state’s prison system.

Sanders’ letter came after Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness requested Wednesday that 138 National Guard members be deployed to work full time in the state’s prisons to “help fill in staffing gaps.”

Magness intends to finish his term, which ends in two years, Corrections Department spokesperson Dina Tyler said in an email Friday to The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Magness was appointed to the board in 1999 by Sanders’ father, then-Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The dispute stems from the Sanders administration moving forward with opening 622 temporary prison beds that the board has not approved. Board members have said opening the temporary beds would jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff.

Arkansas’ prisons are currently above capacity, with more than 1,600 additional state inmates being held in county jails.

Sanders wrote in her letter Friday that if the board wants more beds, it should reinstate Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri and implement his “plan to safely reopen beds with no additional personnel needed.”

“I will not inject our guardsmen and women into a purely political situation caused by the very person requesting them,” Sanders said in her letter to Magness.

Tyler noted that the guard members would not directly supervise inmates but would fill support positions for security, including in towers and at entrances. A similar strategy has been used in other states such as Florida and New Hampshire, the department said.

The board last week suspended Profiri and sued the state over a new law that took away the panel’s hiring and firing power over Profiri and and gave it to the governor. A judge issued a temporary order blocking the law and set a hearing for next week in the case. Attorney General Tim Griffin has asked the court to reconsider its order.

The blocked law also would have given the corrections secretary, not the board, hiring and firing authority over the correction and community correction division directors.

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The head of Arkansas’ Board of Corrections says he’s staying despite governor’s call for resignation