Jan 4, 2024 - News

What to know about Gov. Sanders' dispute with the Board of Corrections

Illustration of a gavel sticking through the bars of a jail door.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The months-long argument between Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the state Board of Corrections over adding prison beds heads to court today.

The big picture: Sanders and Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri, who was appointed by Sanders and confirmed by the board, want to add beds to state prisons.

  • The corrections board objects, saying the prisons aren't sufficiently staffed to accommodate the requested increase in inmates, which would pose safety concerns.

Catch up (kind of) quick: Profiri on Nov. 6 asked the board and its chairman, Benny Magness, to open 622 beds at state prisons, but only 130 were approved. Sanders' administration planned to go ahead with adding the beds anyway after Profiri disputed the staffing concerns, AP reported.

  • The corrections board suspended Profiri on Dec. 14.
  • The board also filed a lawsuit asking a judge to block enforcement of portions of a new law that would remove the board's ability to hire and fire the corrections secretary, arguing it violates the state constitution by usurping the board's authority, AP said. A day later, a judge blocked it.
  • Sanders called for Magness to resign after he requested that 138 National Guard members be deployed to work full time in the state's prisons to help fill in staffing gaps. Magness refused to resign.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Tim Griffin sued the board, accusing its members of violating the Freedom of Information Act in the closed-session hiring of attorney Abtin Mehdizadegan to represent the board in the lawsuit against Sanders and Profiri, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

  • Judge Tim Fox on Dec. 19 said he would dismiss Griffin's lawsuit, giving him 30 days to reach an agreement with the board over their request for special counsel, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Fox said in his order that Griffin "has sued his own clients, in violation of his duties and responsibilities legislatively mandated to him by the Arkansas General Assembly."

Between the lines: The Protect Arkansas Act went into effect Jan. 1. The act changes corrections policies, including lessening and sometimes eliminating parole eligibility for many felonies, likely leading to a larger inmate population.

  • The state's prisons are holding about 16,440 inmates despite a capacity of 15,022, according to AP. More than 1,600 additional state inmates are being held in county jails.

What's next: The corrections board and Magness are asking that the temporary restraining order issued Dec. 15 be converted into a preliminary injunction, which would remain until the lawsuit is resolved, according to the Democrat-Gazette.

Of note: Today's hearing was originally scheduled for Dec. 28 but was postponed because Mehdizadegan's wife went into labor.

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