LITTLE ROCK (AP) — The director of the Arkansas Department of Correction has been suspended without pay for two weeks because of miscommunication that led to the prison board not being made aware of a computer problem that inappropriately reduced the sentences of more than 1,000 inmates.
The State Board of Correction voted unanimously Tuesday to take the action against Ray Hobbs after it took 55 days for the board to learn of the problem.
The glitch allowed 1,123 inmates to be credited with too much time off their sentences for good behavior, which affects how soon an inmate may be released. The problem was in a computer program that had existed since 2005, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/tPBNk2 ) reported in Wednesday’s editions.
Being granted more "good time" than state law allowed resulted in 13 inmates being released too early, Department of Correction spokeswoman Dina Tyler said. The problem was discovered Sept. 28 by computer programmers who were changing the program to make it conform to a prison sentencing law that went into effect this year, Tyler said.
She said Hobbs didn’t learn about the problem until Nov. 21.
"I mean, mission one is ‘figure out what’s wrong and fix it,’ and mission two is ‘Who did it affect? Do we have people out there that shouldn’t be out there?"’ Tyler said. "And, for us, the thought of that is terrifying, and the board didn’t get told as soon as they should have."
Of the 13 who were released, 11 have completed their paroles, one was sentenced back to prison and the other remains on parole but is not in Arkansas, Tyler said. She said the department plans to get the inmate returned so he can serve the rest of his time.
Hobbs told the Democrat-Gazette after the vote that the board’s concerns were valid. He said communication in the department will improve.
Correction board Chairman Benny Magness said the panel has a policy of punishing only the department director.
"We let the director discipline his staff if there is an issue, and we handle the director," Magness said. "We’re going to let him take care of his people as he chooses."
He could not remember whether a director had been suspended before.
Tyler said she has not heard that anyone within the department will be fired, but Hobbs has said he will punish employees if he determines it is appropriate.
Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters Wednesday that he supported the board’s decision, but said he hasn’t lost confidence in Hobbs.
"I can understand why he’d try to see a problem and fix it before anybody found out about it, but you’ve got to keep your board informed and I think that’s what their message is," Beebe said.