TIMELINE: Arkansas Board of Corrections Crisis

TIMELINE: Arkansas Board of Corrections Crisis

#ARCORRECTIONSCRISIS TIMELINE


  • FEBRUARY 6, 2023: Sen. Bart Hester (80%-Cave Springs) filed SB194, a one-page bill that simply moved the Secretary of Corrections under the governor’s authority, away from the Board of Corrections.


  • MARCH 2, 2023: Governor Sarah Sanders signed SB194, which became Act 185. The bill passed unanimously in the Arkansas Senate and garnered 94 votes in the Arkansas House. There was no public opposition to the bill in either legislative committee. Nearly every Arkansas Democrat voted for the bill, which went into effect immediately.


  • MARCH 27, 2023: Sen. Ben Gilmore (87%-Crossett) filed SB495, known as The Protect Arkansas Act. Among many other important reforms, the bill curbed the board’s use of the Emergency Powers Act to release violent criminals prior to the end of their sentences.


  • MARCH 29, 2023: Board of Corrections member Dubs Byers testified against the Protect Arkansas Act in the Arkansas Senate, citing concerns that the bill would “diminish” the powers of the board. (VIDEO)


  • APRIL 4, 2023: Chairman of the Board of Corrections Benny Magness testified against the Protect Arkansas Act in House committee, expressing his concerns with how the bill would curb the board’s authority. (VIDEO)


  • APRIL 7, 2023: The Protect Arkansas Act was sent to the governor for her signature and became Act 659. It received bipartisan, supermajority support in the Arkansas House and passed with 83 percent support in the Senate. It is set to go into effect on January 1, 2024.


  • NOVEMBER 6, 2023: At a Board of Corrections meeting at Varner prison, the Director of the Division of Corrections Dexter Payne asked the board to open 622 more prison beds to help solve the overcrowding in county jails. The board approved 130 bed openings.

  • NOVEMBER 17, 2023: Governor Sanders, Attorney General Tim Griffin, legislative leaders, and law enforcement leaders held a press conference calling on the Corrections Board to approve the opening of 500 additional prison beds to relieve pressure on county jails that are currently housing hundreds of state inmates.


  • NOVEMBER 21, 2023: Chair Magness responded to the governor and attorney general, digging in on his refusal to open more beds and asserting his board’s independence from state policymakers. Magness cited Amendment 33 of the Arkansas Constitution, which he says was designed to “shield” the board from “political interference.” He called Act 185 and the Protect Arkansas Act “incompatible” with the “preservation of the Board’s powers.”

  • DECEMBER 8, 2023: Secretary of Corrections Joe Profiri asked the Board of Corrections to open the additional approximate 500 beds.


  • DECEMBER 14, 2023: In a special meeting, the Board of Corrections voted to suspend Secretary Profiri who they accused of showing “public disdain” for the board’s authority.


  • DECEMBER 14, 2023: The board filed a lawsuit against the governor, attorney general, secretary, and department, in an attempt to retain their power over corrections policy.



  • DECEMBER 15, 2023: Attorney General Griffin filed a lawsuit against the Corrections Board for illegally hiring an outside lawyer and violating the Freedom of Information Act.


  • DECEMBER 19, 2023: Judge Tim Fox attempted to tap the brakes on Griffin’s lawsuit against the board and also insinuated Griffin may have acted unethically.


  • DECEMBER 20, 2023: Griffin responded to Judge Fox, stating his intentions to appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Per Griffin, there is no dispute, as Fox asserted, about the board’s right to retain legal counsel. The contention is whether or not the board followed the proper legal process for doing so, which Griffin contends they did not.

  • DECEMBER 21, 2023: Chairman Magness sent a letter to Governor Sanders asking her to authorize the use of the Arkansas National Guard to serve as guards at state prisons.

  • DECEMBER 22, 2023: In a special, evening meeting, the Board of Corrections convened in an apparent attempt to explain away their handling of the Profiri suspension and their alleged violations of the Freedom of Information Act, among other business.

  • DECEMBER 27, 2023: Opportunity Arkansas revealed that Corrections Auditor Tommy James was previously fired from the department for dishonesty and falsifying documents. (James's recent memo on prison capacity has been a key factor in the board's refusal to open more beds.)


  • DECEMBER 28, 2023: A hearing is set to review the temporary restraining order on the Protect Arkansas Act and Act 185.

  • DECEMBER 28, 2023: The scheduled hearing on the Protect Arkansas Act and Act 185 was postponed after the Board of Corrections' attorney's wife went into labor.

  • JANUARY 1, 2024: Much of the Protect Arkansas Act is scheduled to go into effect.

  • JANUARY 4, 2024: A liberal Pulaski County judge ruled in favor of the Board of Corrections, calling the Protect Arkansas Act "unconstitutional."

  • JANUARY 10, 2024: The Board of Corrections voted 5-2 to fire Secretary Profiri. According to Chairman Magness, Profiri had been "argumentative" and "dismissive."

  • JANUARY 11, 2024: Sen. Ben Gilmore, lead sponsor of the Protect Arkansas Act, said Republican lawmakers are preparing to act and make the Board of Corrections accountable. Gilmore said “What we’re seeing is the fragile egos of an unaccountable and unelected board."

  • JANUARY 17, 2024: Board of Corrections member Lee Watson penned an open letter, deflecting responsibility for the Corrections crisis and demanding additional funding.

  • JANUARY 22, 2024: Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox dismissed the attorney general’s FOIA lawsuit against the Board of Corrections.

  • JANUARY 22, 2024: Dr. Tabrina Bratton of the Department of Corrections told state lawmakers that the department's rehabilitation programs are not evidence-based.

  • JANUARY 31, 2024: The Board of Corrections holds a five-plus hour meeting, at which they "hired" former state Senator Eddie Joe Williams to serve as interim Secretary of Corrections and instructed CFO Chad Brown to find a way to pay the $52,000 invoice for the board's legal action against the state, despite Brown's insistence that he had no legal authority to pay the bill for the contract which was illegally procured.

  • FEBRUARY 1, 2024: The Board of Corrections sent a letter to Governor Sanders, informing her of their action on Eddie Joe Williams, calling him a "consultant" and acknowledging that the governor is the only entity allowed under state law to nominate a secretary.

  • FEBRUARY 1, 2024: AG Tim Griffin sent a letter to Eddie Joe Williams "strongly" encouraging him to decline the Board's "unlawful appointment" or potentially face litigation.

  • FEBRUARY 2, 2024: AG Tim Griffin informed the Board of Corrections that their hiring of Eddie Joe Williams was illegal and that they committed "several" violations of the Freedom of Information Act in their January 31 meeting.

  • FEBRUARY 6, 2024: Eddie Joe Williams resigned.


*Timeline last updated Friday, January 12, 8:30 p.m.

Image of the story authorNicholas Horton
Founder & CEO

Nic Horton is a native Arkansan and Founder & CEO of Opportunity Arkansas. He has spent more than a decade in the conservative movement as an expert on election, disability, tax, welfare, and workforce reform.

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