Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Secretary of Corrections, Wendy Kelley, will retire at the end of July, it was announced at a Board of Corrections meeting on Monday.
Kelley has served as leader of the Department of Corrections, which employs more than 6,000 people, since 2015. Arkansas’ correction system had 18,181 inmates at the end of February, up from 17,846 at the same period in 2019. She was the first female leader of the agency.
Kelley served in other roles with the department during her tenure. She was the Chief Deputy Director (2014) and Deputy Director for Health and Correctional Programs (2006-2013) of the Arkansas Department of Corrections.
Prior to service at the Department of Corrections, she worked in the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.
Kelley is a graduate from the University of Arkansas. She earned her juris doctorate from the William Bowen School of Law in Little Rock.
“I am grateful for Wendy Kelley’s service in my administration and for her leadership as the state’s first Secretary of Corrections,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Since 2015, she has worked tirelessly to improve reentry programs for inmates going back into society. She has effectively increased capacity and reduced the county jail backup. Wendy has been an incredibly valuable member of my team and I will miss her experience and leadership in one of the most challenging arenas of state government. She cares about this state and the inmates that are within her responsibility. I appreciate her willingness to serve and wish her all the best in future endeavors.”
Kelley has been at the helm of the Corrections Department during two tumultuous cycles. She was the leader of the agency when the state restarted executions of death row inmates in 2017. Kelley has most recently guided the state’s prison system during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen hundreds of state inmates contract COVID-19. Her retirement also follows national news reports of troubling responses by the department to the virus outbreak in correctional facilities.
As of Monday, there have been 3,620 inmates testing positive for COVID-19, with the number of active cases at 1,049. There have been 13 inmate deaths reported by state officials. There have been 573 corrections staff test positive, with 363 active cases, and one death.