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Arkansas prison administrators have labeled the recent deaths of five inmates in four days at the Varner unit and its supermax facility an "unacceptable anomaly," according to an Associated Press story by Andrew DeMillo.

Based on the figures supplied by the Department of Correction, I believe the deaths stretch far beyond unacceptable. The reported 1,136 incidents within state prisons last year involving K2, a synthetic marijuana, including overdoses, also don't assure me the widespread use behind bars is all that anomalous. That's an average of three K2 incidents a day. There already have been 534 K2 incidents reported in our prisons this year.

Statewide, there were 13 K2 deaths last year, with six so far this year, not including the five inmates.

Prison officials told a legislative panel last week the number of incidents thus far this year has decreased and they have been working to reduce K2 incidents behind bars. Department spokesperson and legislative liaison Solomon Graves informed lawmakers, "What happened last week was an anomaly, and it was an anomaly that we will not tolerate becoming the norm."

I'd say it more likely was a viable possibility all along. The sustained possession and use of this potentially fatal drug sounds more to me like a full-scale infestation within our penal system.

Even with what seems apparent at this point, especially with comments from prison officials, the cause of death for the five inmates had yet to be pinned down late last week, although K2 was certainly the prime suspect. And officials say they are working to reduce the number of incidents.

That's nice. But I've gotta wonder how so much of this garbage has been steadily filtering from the outside into the cells and for how long. More than 1,000 K2 incidents in the prisons last year seems preposterous to me. And that's just the number caught. Is the stuff arriving by letter? Are visitors slipping it in? How about insiders who are in and out of the prisons daily? It's a safe bet the stuff isn't drifting from the clouds like manna.

I did read that they are implementing tighter restrictions on inmate mail and using body scanners to try and combat the problem. Who knows?

Yet I can't help but believe the problem here, after so any men died so quickly behind bars, is far more serious than we realize. When was the last time you heard about five inmates dying over four days in any prison system, especially from possible drug overdoses or interactions?

Our state isn't alone when it comes to K2 infiltrating prisons elsewhere. Vice News reported last week: "At least six inmates in Florida have died due to overdoses on K2 this year, compared to just one the previous year. "

Another who expressed alarm about what's happening inside the Arkansas penal system is Democrat state Sen. Joyce Elliott, who called for the hearing on these deaths. Elliott said the department's comments didn't allay her concerns, the news account said.

"There was nothing that was said to me today to suggest that we have any kind of control any more than we did, say, yesterday, on what's going on," she told reporters after the hearing. "I'm still greatly concerned."

Make that two of us, Senator Elliott.

Ingrained corruption

Let's talk a moment about former GOP state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson as the latest of multiple former state lawmakers to find himself ensnared in federal corruption charges.

What do you suppose such pseudo "public servants" consume when they arrive in Little Rock, (other than perhaps spiced iced tea at Little Rock's Capital Hotel watering hole) that makes them believe it's acceptable to sell out to special interests and schemes designed to steal the taxpayers' dollars?

Has corruption become so deeply ingrained in our political system to be woven into a good ol' boys network where the expectation is to get along ya gotta go along with the corruption? Apparently so for a number of folks.

A roll call from the group called Secure Arkansas of former Arkansas legislators and "public servants" I've inducted into my personal Arkansas Hall of Eternal Shame for governmental corruption and tax evasion includes:

Hutchinson, who has resigned since the recent indictment accusing him of misspending campaign funds on personal benefits and entertainment; Former Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale; former Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale; former Sen Jake Files, R-Fort Smith; former Rep. and lobbyist Eddie Cooper, D-Melbourne; former Jefferson County Judge and Sen. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff; former Rep. and Department of Human Services official Steve Jones, D-Marion; former Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs; former District Judge Mike Maggio; and lobbyist Rusty Cranford, a corruptive influence charged in a multistate bribery scheme on behalf of his Preferred Family Healthcare Inc. Cranford also has been mentioned regarding the Arkansas General Improvement Fund grant money bribery scheme.

Hope all that graft was worth it to you fellas.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

Editorial on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: On prison deaths

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