Jul 21, 2022 - News

Arkansas prison system staffed on a shoestring

Inmates per staff member in Arkansas prisons
Data: Arkansas Division of Corrections; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Almost one-third of Arkansas' Division of Corrections staff turned over during fiscal year 2021, public information officer Cindy Murphy told Axios in an email on July 18.

  • Security staff alone — those interacting the most with inmates — saw a 37% turnover rate in 2021, up from about 30% the two years prior.

Why it matters: The health and wellbeing of inmates and safety of prison employees and the public depend largely on adequate staffing.

Zoom out: Prison staffing shortages are a national issue. The Marshall Project recently reported that one corrections officer in Georgia had been assigned to oversee 400 incarcerated people.

Details: As of last Friday, Arkansas' Department of Corrections — the umbrella overseeing the division — had 156 job openings posted.

  • The vacancy rate for corrections officers in the state is an astonishing 46%, ADC told us.
  • The Board of Corrections reduced inmate bed capacity this January at the prison in Tucker from 910 to 612 because of insufficient staffing and renovations. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the facility only had 34 of a required 102 correctional officers at the time.

Threat level: Salaries for entry-level corrections officers in the state are $37,715 per year, which includes 6% hazard pay. The next step up earns a little more than $42,000 annually.

  • The work is hard and in an environment most people consider unpleasant.
  • Meanwhile, it costs between $5,663 and $6,126 to fully train a new corrections officer, ADC told Axios.

Go deeper: The map above highlights the number of incarcerated people per staff member at each of Arkansas' facilities at the end of fiscal year 2021. See an interactive version of the map.

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