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Judge agrees with Board of Corrections, grants restraining order against former Corrections Secretary and Gov. Sanders

The Board of Corrections was granted a restraining order against Secretary Joe Profiri and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Laura Sullivan
/
NPR
The Board of Corrections was granted a restraining order against Secretary Joe Profuri and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In a four-page decision, Judge Patricia James agreed with the Arkansas Board of Corrections in a lawsuit against the former secretary. The Board of Corrections voted this week to suspend and sue Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri. This comes after internal disputes at the department over adding additional prison beds.

In November, Gov. Sanders requested Arkansas prisons add about 600 new beds. The Board of Corrections added some beds, but fell short by about 200. The Governor and Attorney General Tim Griffin then called a press conference to criticize what they saw as a lack of action. Sanders called the decision “unacceptable” while the Attorney General said the decision kept the public from being safe.

As originally reported by The Arkansas Advocate, an internal review found several problems with understaffing and overcrowding at the prison. Auditor Tommy James for the Arkansas Board of Corrections, said many prisons are borrowing staff from other facilities or forcing their employees to work overtime.

Secretary Profiri, who was appointed to the position by Gov. Sanders earlier this year, acted to add beds against the wishes of the Board of Corrections. On Thursday, he was suspended and the board filed a lawsuit against him.

Benny Magness, the chairman of the Arkansas Board of Corrections wrote a letter about the suspension to the governor.

"The board is concerned about Mr. Profiri's addition of new prison beds to our existing overcrowded and understaffed facilities," Magness wrote. He said he was going to court over the situation but that “the immediate physical safety of our facilities can not be overshadowed by ongoing litigation.”

Gov. Sanders expressed support for Profiri in a post on the social media site formerly known as Twitter.

“I have complete confidence in Sec Profiri and his leadership at the Dep of Corrections,” she said Friday. “I won’t let stunts distract us from keeping Arkansans safe.

After his suspension, Sanders she would reinstate Profiri to his position. The Board of Corrections says this violates Amendment 33. The law was added to the state constitution in the 1940's. It prohibits the governor from interfering with state agencies and their boards.

Friday, Judge Patricia James agreed with the board of corrections and granted a restraining order against Sanders and former Sec. Profiri. James said recent decisions made by the governor are "making it impossible for Plaintiffs to perform their constitutional duties.” The restraining order will stay in effect until Dec. 28th. Until then, Profiri will be barred from doing his job.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.