An April 23 leak of confidential information to a statewide Arkansas newspaper has put the North Central Unit in Calico Rock back in the media spotlight.
"We're concentrating on where the documents came from," Arkansas Department of Correction Spokesman Dina Tyler said. "By law we are entrusted to protect the confidentiality of prisoner records."
Tyler said there were no riots at the prison as some in the media have said. "A riot is inmates against the institution. A fight is inmate against inmate," she said.
The anonymous source who spoke to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter said troublesome black inmates are sent to the North Central Unit as punishment.
"That's absolutely not true. Why would we take inmates who cause trouble and put them in a medium security prison? Why would we send them to a facility five or six hours away from a response team?" Tyler asked. She said troublemakers are sent to maximum security prisons, not to medium security prisons.
She said the anonymous sources the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter spoke to are employees who do not have a hand in determining where any inmates go. "There is no policy, official or unofficial, to send black inmates there (to Calico Rock)," she said.
The leaked items were disciplinary documents and photos of inmates, Tyler said. She said inmate records by law are confidential and not usually accessible except by prison officials or court order. "They're like permanent school records," she said.
So far one employee of the prison has been placed on administrative leave in connection to the leak as the investigation proceeds, Tyler said.
The recent controversy around the North Central Unit centers around three fights between inmates that took place March 21, March 27 and April 14.
The March 21 fight between a white inmate and black inmate started over coffee, according to Tyler. The fight grew into a brawl between 12 inmates, with some sticking padlocks into socks and using them as weapons. During the fight one inmate lost an eye, one suffered a jaw injury and another suffered a cut that required stitches.
Tyler said inmate gossip in another barrack turned the incident into a racial affair which caused a group of black inmates and white inmates to fight. No serious injuries occurred during that incident.
After the fight, 49 inmates were transferred to maximum security units in other parts of the state.
The April 14 fight involved five black inmates jumping four white inmates and a Hispanic inmate. Tyler said the inmates thought attacking inmates different from themselves would lead to transfers to other prisons in the southern or central parts of the state where many black inmates are from. But the five inmates were not transferred.
The North Central Unit was established in 1990. It is a medium security prison which houses 533 inmates.