The Arkansas Department of Corrections has awarded the University of Arkansas at Little Rock a multi-year contract of more than $453,000 to study and assess the prison culture and climate in Arkansas.
“This multi-year project, funded by existing DOC revenues, will be the first of its kind done on the State’s adult corrections system,” said Solomon Graves, cabinet secretary of Arkansas Department of Corrections. “It will not only review operational issues within the Divisions of Correction and Community Correction, along with the Correctional School District, it will study issues related to staff recruitment, retention, and the efficacy of offender programs.”
UA Little Rock criminal justice professors Mary Parker, Robert Lytle, and Molly Smith will lead the four-year research project.
“This is a project that I’ve been wanting to work on for a long time,” said Parker, the principal investigator. “I have more than 20 years of experience on the Board of Corrections. This research project is the next step in continuing my service to the state of Arkansas.”
The study started in May and will continue until April 30, 2025. The $453,805 award also provides funding for a graduate assistant, Cassidy Mitchell, who is a criminal justice doctoral student at UA Little Rock.
“Our faculty in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology continues to raise the bar in community-engaged research,” said Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, director of the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology at UA Little Rock. “This project is a great example of how our faculty and students engage with agency partners to improve our understanding of how the criminal justice system works, specifically in corrections.”
Each individual correctional unit in the Arkansas Department of Corrections has a unique history, mission, and staffing as well as varied inmate, resident, and client makeup. Each unit in the state’s system will be studied individually before larger conclusions and recommendations are made for the Arkansas Department of Corrections as a whole.
The first phase will include studies on Cummins, Varner, East Arkansas, Tucker, and Tucker Max. Phase two will include Ouachita River, Wrightsville Complex, and Delta. Next, the third phase will include North Central, Grimes, McPherson, Pine Bluff units, and independent work release centers. The final phase of study will include Community Correction Centers and Probation and Parole Offices.
The research project seeks to understand all aspects of prison life in Arkansas. To accomplish this, the research team will survey offenders, prison staff, family members of offenders, and volunteers.
“We are one of the few large-scale projects that includes visitors and volunteers,” Parker said. “Families are a critical dynamic to incarceration and adding their perspective to the study gives us invaluable information on the impact of incarceration on friends and families of those incarcerated. Most people do not realize it but hundreds of volunteers work in prison providing religious programming, therapy groups, dog training, meditation, etc. for the inmate population. We will be surveying a sample of this population to gain their perspectives on what we can do better in our individual prison to improve multiple dynamics of the culture in prison.”
The research team will also conduct focus groups with medical, educational programming, unit support, management, and training staff as well as probation and parole officers and staff members.
At the end of the study, UA Little Rock will provide a final report with conclusions and recommendations about each unit in the prison system, a review of the educational programming throughout the system, recommendations with corresponding best practices for DOC administration, and recommendations to improve the culture and climate throughout the system.