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LITTLE ROCK -- The Arkansas Board of Corrections has unanimously voted to confirm Wendy Kelley as the state's first secretary of corrections.

Kelley's confirmation came after a two-hour board meeting Wednesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

"There's no question on her capabilities and qualifications," said Benny Magness, the chairman of the seven-member board.

An attorney by trade, Kelley has been the head of the Department of Correction since 2015, overseeing a prison system that has been plagued with violence. Starting July 1, she will also oversee the Parole Board and the Department of Community Correction, which are merging into the Department of Correction under a state government reorganization announced in April.

With responsibility for more than 80,000 prisoners, probationers and parolees, Kelley's salary is expected to increase from $155,000 to $158,000.

Kelley said she planned to meet with the heads of other agencies under her purview to get acquainted with their operations.

"I've got a lot of areas I've got to learn and get advice from," Kelley said.

Kelley will initially serve the "dual roles" of leading the day-to-day operations of the state prison system, while also serving in the governor's Cabinet, according to department spokesman Solomon Graves. Eventually, there will be discussion about leadership of the Division of Correction, he said.

A replacement for Kelley as chief of prison operations has yet to be identified, Magness said.

Under Kelley's leadership, the Department of Correction has struggled to address prison overcrowding and staff vacancies. A string of inmate assaults on guards in 2017 led Kelley to ask the Legislature to approve funds for pay increases and more solitary confinement beds. The violence has since subsided but state records indicate staff vacancies remained close to 20% at two maximum security facilities.

State Desk on 06/07/2019

Print Headline: Board confirms secretary of corrections

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