Sanders Among Latest To Call For Resignation Of Arkansas Board Of Corrections Member

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday asked that Board of Corrections member Alonza Jiles resign his seat.

Sanders issued the statement months after Jiles was named in lawsuits that allege he helped to cover up physical and sexual abuse at a juvenile treatment center in Randolph County, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. She joins numerous lawmakers and other state leaders, including Attorney General Tim Griffin, who also have publicly urged Jiles to resign.

“The accusations against Alonza Jiles are concerning and a distraction from his work and the work of the Board of Corrections,” Sanders said in a statement.

Jiles, 60, was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2006, and was elected secretary the following year. That term expired in 2011. Then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed him to the board again in 2022. His second term is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2027.

Jiles denied what he called “baseless allegations” against him in the lawsuits over the Lord's Ranch facility, he said in a statement. Efforts to force his resignation are an attack on the state constitution's 33rd amendment, which shields constitutional boards from political pressure, he said.

“I was not aware of, nor did I participate in any child abuse. I did not preside over a wedding of any minor at the Lord’s Ranch,” he said. “I have kept silent about this on the advice of counsel and because these lawsuits are pending.”

If Jiles were to resign, Sanders would appoint his replacement. It would be at least the fifth appointment within the state Department of Corrections she has made since December. Sanders is in an ongoing feud with the board.

Sanders has pressured board members into supporting her request to add 622 beds at several state facilities. The board had previously agreed to some of her requests but had rejected her call for a combined 492 beds at the Barber Ester Unit in Pine Bluff, the McPherson Unit in Newport, and the Maximum Security Unit in Jefferson County.

At the time, the board said renovations were needed at two of the facilities. Members also expressed concerns that some of the prisons were already overcrowded and the expansions wouldn’t serve county jails’ long-term needs.

The board later agreed to additional beds at the Ester Unit but hesitated to add 368 beds at the McPherson and Maximum Security units. A spokeswoman for Sanders’ office said in December that Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri would move forward with the full plan anyway under orders from the governor.

The body soon suspended Profiri with pay and banned him from the Department of Corrections administrative building, then fired him four weeks later. Within about three hours, Sanders announced she had hired the former secretary as a senior adviser in her office.

Meanwhile, Jiles and other staff members are the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by 52 former residents of the now-closed Lord's Ranch, a faith-based juvenile facility. The lawsuits allege sexual abuse and that Jiles covered up attempts to report the violations.

Jiles, who is described in complaints as a “senior director of the Lord’s Ranch Entities and facilities” and serving as “administrative director at its primary facility located in Warm Springs,” is a defendant in each of the cases. Other defendants include Theodore E. “Ted” Suhl, the former director of the Lord’s Ranch in Randolph County, along with his mother, staff members and business entities associated with the facility.

Stephen D. Blandin and Joshua Gillispie, attorneys for the plaintiffs, in a statement Thursday said that according to the lawsuits, Jiles knew about a counselor's abuse of teenagers. They said they support Sanders' call.

Jiles “fully ignored his responsibility as both a staff member of this residential youth facility and as a decent human being,” the attorneys said. "Had he done the right thing and reported these concerns when he first learned of them, he could have saved so many young people from the trauma of sexual abuse."

Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness said he has known Jiles for about 20 years and defended his character, but has not commented on whether he thought Jiles should resign.