Arkansas’ prison board votes to fire corrections secretary

Former Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections Joe Profiri (Arkansas Department of Corrections)

Arkansas’ Board of Corrections voted 5-2 Wednesday to fire Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri, who has been on suspension for the past four weeks with pay.

The board held a special meeting via teleconference to discuss the status of Profiri’s job, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The board could have lifted the suspension, extended it or terminated him.

After a seven-minute discussion, led mostly by board member Lee Watson, the board decided to fire him.

“I think Arkansas deserves better,” Watson said before making the motion to dismiss Profiri.

Chairman Benny Magness, who doesn’t typically vote, voted with the majority Wednesday. He said he would personally call Profiri to deliver the news.

Profiri, who had been appointed to the position by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders shortly after she took office last year, has been at the center of an ongoing battle between the board and the governor’s office over who controls the department leadership. Wednesday’s decision comes after two months of wrangling between the board and Profiri, who the board has accused of being insubordinate and uncommunicative.

Profiri is named along with Sanders and the Department of Corrections in a lawsuit filed by the board. The lawsuit seeks to ensure that the board maintains its authority to supervise and manage the corrections secretary, as well as the directors of the Department of Corrections’ Division of Correction and Division of Community Correction.

Sanders criticized the board Wednesday night, accusing it of focusing on “pushing lies, political stunts, and power grabs.” She said Profiri would serve as a senior advisor to her in the governor’s office during the litigation.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Patricia James issued a temporary restraining order Dec. 15 barring the enforcement of Act 185 of 2023 and portions of Act 659 of 2023, which the board contends weakens its authority set forth in the Arkansas Constitution. After a hearing last week, James approved a preliminary injunction in the case, which will stay in place until the lawsuit is resolved.

Act 185 would require the secretary of corrections to serve at the pleasure of the governor. Act 659 would, in part, require directors of the Divisions of Correction and Community Correction to serve at the pleasure of the secretary.

Attorney General Tim Griffin, who is representing Profiri and the other defendants in the lawsuit, said he was disappointed by the board’s decision.