The North Central Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, built in 1990 in Calico Rock, was not popular for residents, said Dina Tyler, public information officer. But Tyler said that view has changed over the years; she said she thinks citizens would now protest if the facility closed its doors.
The unit was located at Calico Rock through the efforts of state Rep. John E. Miller. "It wasn't the most popular thing to hit town," Tyler said. But even though the public protested the site, construction began and job opportunities were available to residents.
Warden Sarah McQuilliams oversees the unit which houses 500 male offenders. Inmates are given the opportunity to join the Regional Maintenance Program which provides jobs for the prisoners. Some have worked locally cleaning up ditches, trash, storm debris and parks.
Often prisoners do not have good work ethics and are not used to punching a time clock or getting up early. The program gives offenders a chance to give something back to the community. For some it's the first opportunity to do something positive for the community and it helps retune the offender's thinking, Tyler explained.
Job skills are taught through the program and employees of ADC help offenders learn marketable skills. The goal is to teach offenders how to be useful and productive after they are released from prison.
Inmates are able to continue their education during their incarceration and are encouraged to apply for their GED. Vo-tech programs are also available where prisoners can be transferred to other prisons that offer such programs. Counselors and vo-tech coordinators make the determinations and choose which inmates are suitable for such programs. Substance abuse treatments are made available to inmates.
Tyler said she can recall only four prison escapes in the history of the facility. One escapee was captured within 27 minutes, a second was found within 41 minutes, and the remaining two were also captured.
The unit maintains full accreditation which meets or exceeds more than 400 tough national standards. The facility received 100 percent mandatory standards and 98.5 percent on non-mandatory standards through the American Correctional Association.
The accreditation is designed to make living conditions better for inmates. It also provides better working conditions for staff. Tyler explained the unit met the national standards because the facility was in tip top shape including sanitation and cleanliness.
To ensure the facility maintains at top level, employees work hard every day because the unit goes through reaccreditation every three years. Tyler said one little slip and the unit could lose that rating.
McQuilliams has done an outstanding job overseeing the unit and so did Larry May, the previous warden, Tyler said. There have only been two wardens since the facility opened 12 years ago.
The goal is to recruit and retain a highly trained and sufficient workforce to carry out the mission of the ADC and to maximize inmate participation in work programs. Another goal is to provide safe and humane incarceration for inmates.