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story.lead_photo.caption Former Arkansas Community Correction Director Sheila Sharp and new Arkansas Community Correction Director Kevin Murphy (center) are shown in this file photo with Deputy Director Administrative Services Chad Brown (left). - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Kevin Murphy, who has been serving as interim director of Arkansas Community Correction, was tapped to become the official head of the agency on Thursday by the Board of Corrections.

The appointment came by a unanimous vote of the board, which met in executive session for about 20 minutes Thursday morning. The chairman of the board, Benny Magness, said Murphy, previously a deputy director, was "our first choice."

The Community Correction department oversees more than 60,000 parolees and probationers, and the number of offenders under its supervision has increased in recent years as the state Legislature has enacted policies to divert people from prison.

The agency is one of several that Gov. Asa Hutchinson intends to merge with similar departments as part of a reorganization of state government. Under the plan, Community Correction would be merged with the Department of Correction, which runs the state prison system.

"We're not sure exactly what that's going to look like," Murphy said Thursday. "Primarily we'll be looking at some of the logistical areas, such as IT [information technology] or business sections, or HR [human resources], to [see] whether or not those need to continue to be separate, or we need to merge them."

Murphy was named interim director in July after his predecessor, Sheila Sharp, was fired by the Board of Corrections.

Sharp claimed that her firing was because of her insistence that the agency be approved for a staff increase, in violation of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's orders that no agency heads request additional staff.

In November, while Murphy led the department, Hutchinson ended up including money to create up to 30 new positions at the department in his budget for the next fiscal year. Murphy also led the agency to restructure the way it calculates caseloads, in such a way that the agency does not count "inactive" offenders or those in temporary lock-ups.

Magness said the board had considered interviewing other candidates for the director's role, but ultimately settled on Murphy.

"There's no question, that with the coming session coming up, this was our best choice," Magness said, referring to the 92nd General Assembly, which convenes Monday.

Magness said Murphy will receive the same salary as Sharp. Murphy told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that his salary would be $123,380 a year, up from the $112,164 he was paid as deputy director.

Murphy attracted criticism from some lawmakers during his tenure as deputy director regarding his work at nonprofit groups aligned with the state's corrections agencies.

In March, a report by Arkansas Legislative Audit -- an agency that audits government entities -- found that in addition to his salary, Murphy was paid a total of $253,083 over three years as head of the Arkansas Association of Correctional Employees Trust, which offers benefits to state employees. The audit report suggested Murphy's work outside the agency created a conflict of interest, an accusation he -- as well as Sharp at the time -- denied.

On Thursday, Murphy said he continued to head the employee association, but has served on a volunteer basis since being appointed interim director of Community Corrections. He said he would be "transferring" his duties at the nonprofit agency to other people over the next 90 days.

"I'll still be volunteering," Murphy added.

Asked if Murphy was being considered for a role atop the merged corrections agencies as "secretary of corrections" under the governor's reorganization plan, a spokesman for Hutchinson said such considerations would not occur until the Legislature passes the plan.

Murphy declined to speculate on the possibility of another promotion.

Kevin Murphy

Metro on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas parole agency fill-in selected for top job

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