This time of year is filled with reflection, celebration, and joy. But for so many of our neighbors, this season is also filled with sadness—because of the crime wave that’s hurting families across our state.
Like me, you probably have friends and loved ones who have been affected: a mom who lost a son to a robbery gone wrong; a brother who lost his sister in a hit-and-run; a husband who lost his wife in a kidnapping. Or even a business that was ransacked during the 2020 riots and never financially recovered.
For these Arkansans, the holidays are extra tough. No matter how much time goes by, their wounds are ever-present and the turn of the year can easily reopen them. And while nothing can change the past, many of them remain hopeful that their pain will not be wasted—that finally, justice will be served.
On behalf of these Arkansans, the recent actions of the Board of Corrections to retain their power, seemingly at any cost, disgust me.
Their latest shot in an ongoing turf war was fired last week: The board held a special meeting and suspended Secretary of Corrections Joe Profiri. It also filed a lawsuit against the state of Arkansas to block new public-safety reforms.
The board’s justification for these extreme measures? Best I can tell, Profiri hurt the members’ feelings. That and they don’t like being told what to do. (According to one board member, Profiri showed “public disdain” for the board. The horror!) A Pulaski County judge put a temporary pause on these new laws, which were passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support in the Arkansas Legislature.
Now the board will march forward, spending taxpayer funds on their outside counsel—which Attorney General Tim Griffin says was illegally obtained—in order to protect their fiefdom, further clogging up our court system.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise, as a member of the Corrections Board testified against these reforms during the legislative session, saying his primary concern was “the diminishing of the power of the board.” Really, he said that. (You can see the clip on the Opportunity Arkansas YouTube page if you’d like.) But at the end of the day, what public interest is all of this nonsense serving? How does suspending the secretary, who’s in charge of day-today operations of our prisons, solve any problems whatsoever? What’s much clearer is the board’s interest.
And if this was truly about the public’s interest, why did the board wait until the end of the year to press this issue? These laws were passed nearly nine months ago.
Most regrettably, the one thing that should be guiding all of the board’s discussions seems to be entirely absent: public safety.
Has the Corrections Board acknowledged Arkansas’ record violent crime, up nearly 40 percent over the last decade?
Have they taken responsibility for the near-record number of homicides in our capital city last year, fueled largely by their disastrous catch-and-release policies?
Have they thought about the empty seats around Christmas tables all across Arkansas, created by failed government policies that were perpetuated by power-hungry bureaucrats?
I can assure you the families of Arkansas’ crime victims have thought of all of these things. And they aren’t losing any sleep over who gets to make what decisions when, or Joe Profiri’s attitude. They simply want justice for their loved ones—and they want the crime wave to stop. If only the Board of Corrections shared that concern as deeply as it cares about perpetuating its own power.
At the end of the day, the only reason there’s any dispute here at all is because the board and the secretary are pulling in opposite directions—the secretary toward needed reform and the board toward “the way we’ve always done things around here.” Without that disunity, the question of authority would be largely irrelevant as everyone worked toward the same goals.
To see an example of this type of unified leadership, look no further than Gov. Sarah Sanders, Sen. Ben Gilmore, Attorney General Griffin, and Secretary Profiri. They’re all on the same page, working countless hours to reform our broken justice system and put together a much-needed overhaul that garnered supermajority, bipartisan legislative support. They’ve given many Arkansans hope that the end of our crime crisis is finally in sight.
The only obstruction seems to be the entity whose sole purpose is to ensure Arkansans’ safety.
It’s time for the Board of Corrections to put petty politics aside. Put people ahead of power. Put victims ahead of violent criminals. Accept that change is here and give all Arkansans what they want for Christmas: a safer Arkansas.
This article originally appeared on December 22, 2023, in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.