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Prisons adding safeguards following disturbances

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas prison officials said Tuesday they'll upgrade security equipment, increase restrictive housing for inmates and make other improvements at facilities in response to a series of violent disturbances that have included attacks on guards by inmates.

The Department of Correction detailed the improvements they're making in response to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call for additional safeguards in the wake of the violent incidents. The plan was released the day before Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley planned to appear before a legislative hearing on the disturbances.

"I appreciate Director Kelley's swift action per my request for options to better safeguard our prison facilities and reduce the violence within," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement released by the department. "Based upon my discussions with her, these are items that should be started immediately, while we consider additional and longer-term options in the weeks and months ahead."

The department did not have an estimate for how much the improvements will cost, but a department spokesman said officials planned to reallocate existing resources and did not expect to ask lawmakers for additional funding for the improvements. Arkansas' prisons hold 16,220 inmates.

"The mission of the Department of Correction is to provide a safe and humane environment for staff and inmates. This plan will increase the safety in our maximum security facilities," Kelley said in a statement.

The disturbances have included the assault of three guards by inmates at two facilities on the same day last month. Others include an August incident at the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker -- also known as Tucker Max -- where inmates held three guards hostage after taking keys and a Taser. A month earlier, a guard at the same prison fired warning shots into the air after two guards and an inmate were attacked there.

Last week, a prosecutor filed a manslaughter charge against a prisoner in the fatal assault of a fellow inmate in July at another facility.

The plan includes renovating the single-person pens inmates use for recreation breaks at four maximum-security prisons. The department had already said it planned to replace the Tucker Max recreation pens after Kelley said the July and August incidents there began when inmates managed to escape the chain-link pens.

The department said it planned to increase security at the four maximum-security prisons by constructing controlled access points to general population barracks. The department also said it will convert about 400 existing cells currently used as general population housing into restrictive housing -- where inmates will spend most of the day confined to their cells. The restrictive housing will house inmates found guilty of disciplinary violations.

State Desk on 10/11/2017

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