Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Betsey Wright charged in prison case

Posted By on Wed, Aug 12, 2009 at 4:07 PM

click to enlarge unknown.jpg
Betsey Wright, chief of staff under Gov. Bill Clinton and a long-time familiar figure in state and national politics, has been charged with 51 felony counts of attempting to take contraband items into the Varner Unit of the prison system, which houses Death Row.

Prosecuting Attorney Steve Dalrymple of Pine Bluff said Wright was charged wtih attempting to take in an ink pen with tweezers and a needle inside; a Swiss Army-style pocketknife of undetermined size; a "blue box cutter with razor" of undetermined size, and 48 "tattoo needles." In a phone interview, Dalrymple had referred to these as "tattoo syringes," but the information faxed to me later indicated they were needles.

Wright, 66, declined to comment, though she'd told me weeks ago when we first mentioned a case of potential contraband on Death Row in our Insider column that she was the target of the prison investigation and she said the charge was unfounded.

Her attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said: "We're disappointed that the prosecutor has chosen to file charges. Betsey Wright is innocent. She has been a vehement supporter of prisoners' rights and often an irritant to prison administration. It's our feeling that they have decided to take a willfully negative interpretation of some ambiguous circumstances. We intend to fight the charges."

Dalrymple wouldn't speculate on the intended use of the items, whether mostly for tattoos or other purposes.

The items were found when Wright was going through the security clearance process for a visit to the unit on May 22. She did not enter a prison unit with them. The needles were found in a Doritos bag that Wright said she'd found lying in a vending machine. She thought she'd found a free snack to take to an inmat.

The filing of charges raises, for one, questions of how often the Correction Department pursues felony charges on contraband, particularly items discovered before entry. I was unable to reach a prison spokesman after office hours.

Dalrymple told me an interview last week that contraband is a routine occurrence in the prison -- from drugs, tobacco and alcohol to cell phones. Regular prison visitors tell me that they often see people found in possession of prohibited items who are allowed to take them back to their cars before entry. Wright was immediately subjected to questioning on the items. I couldn't get a description from Dalrymple of the knife and box cutter, but hope to be able to obtain photos eventually.

Here's the full detail of the state's case, released after a district judge ruled there was probable cause to issue an arrest warrant. Dalrymple and Rosenzweig had previously reached an agreement for Wright to surrender on the charges next week in Lincoln County and to post a $1,500 bond. Rosenzweig is in Jonesboro this week as part of the defense team seeking to win freedom of the West Memphis Three.

The Wright charges come amid a string of embarrassing prison incidents, from escapes to the fatal shooting of a man attempting to drive away from the unit after a guard discovered he was wanted for failing to make a visit to a parole office. There was also an incident in which a prisoner was left nearly to die in feces by guards. A criminal investigation of the shooting case remains underway in Dalrymple's office.

Rosenzweig's description of prison officials' view of Wright as an "irritant" is mild. They have been deeply stung by press and legislative criticism and have long resented Wright's outspoken advocacy. Some are holdover employhees from the days when the Clinton administration fought to reform a prison system riddled with corruption. They are accustomed to running the prisons as a no-questions-asked fiefdom and Wright was not shy about criticizing the small ways in which prison officials can add misery to lives of prisoners by such things as withholding mail or other small privileges.

In the end, pressing charges against Wright might bring more sunshine to a dark world in need of it, even if she was fairly charged.

Wright's devotion to Death Row cases -- obsession many would call it -- has caused even some ideological soulmates to distance themselves from Wright at times. She's spent a sizable portion of her modest means in making regular visits to the prison from her home in Northwest Arkansas.

The charges, specifically, are three class C felonies for attempting to furnish prohibited articles into a correctional facility (the pen with tweezers, knife and box cutter), and 48 class d felonies, the needles.

Favorite

Comments (22)

Showing 1-22 of 22

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-22 of 22

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Dexter Suggs resigns as Little Rock school superintendent

    This just in from state Education Department: Today, Commissioner Johnny Key reached an agreement with Dr. Dexter Suggs that resulted in Dr. Suggs’ immediate resignation as superintendent of the Little Rock School District.
    • Apr 21, 2015
  • IHOP coming down, but .....

    I always scan the Little Rock City Board for items of interest this week and this one caught my eye: A zoning measure required by a proposal to tear down the IHOP at Markham and University.
    • Apr 30, 2016
  • More legal headaches for Dexter Suggs

    Dexter Suggs may have cleared out his office before the workday began today, but he still has lingering legal matters as defendant in lawsuits against him and the state.
    • Apr 21, 2015

Most Shared

  • Labor department director inappropriately expensed out-of-state trips, audit finds

    Jones was "Minority Outreach Coordinator" for Hutchinson's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The governor first named him as policy director before placing him over the labor department instead in Jan. 2015, soon after taking office.
  • Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist resigns

    Bob Scoggin, 50, the Department of Arkansas Heritage archeologist whose job it was to review the work of agencies, including DAH and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, for possible impacts on historic properties, resigned from the agency on Monday. Multiple sources say Scoggin, whom they describe as an "exemplary" employee who the week before had completed an archeological project on DAH property, was told he would be fired if he did not resign.
  • Forget identity politics

    Amid the climate of disbelief and fear among Democrats following Donald Trump's election, a fascinating debate has broken out about what's called "identity politics" on the left, "political correctness" by the right.
  • Lawsuit filed against ADC officials, prison chaplain convicted of sexual assault at McPherson

    A former inmate who claims she was sexually assaulted over 70 times by former McPherson Womens' Unit chaplain Kenneth Dewitt has filed a federal lawsuit against Dewitt, several staff members at the prison, and officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections, including former director Ray Hobbs.
  • Lessons from Standing Rock

    A Fayetteville resident joins the 'water protectors' allied against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Visit Arkansas

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Arkansas remembers Pearl Harbor

Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned

Most Viewed

  • As teacher shortage looms, legislators want to make firing educators easier

    Even if one accepts the dubious premise that "bad teachers" are a root cause of struggling schools (rather than a consequence of them), where will the "good teachers" come from to fill positions at schools in districts like Helena and high-poverty campuses in Little Rock?
  • Car crashes through Argenta Bead Co., causes thousands in damage

    A wayward Mercedes-Benz careened off Main Street in North Little Rock following a traffic accident Saturday night, with the car smashing through a window and destroying a door at Argenta Bead Co. The impact knocked over shelves and scattered what the owner of the business called "thousands and thousands and thousands" of beads and charms, including several expensive and rare antique glass beads — across the store.
  • Hutchinson establishes Office of Transformation with goal of streamlining state government

    The Governor's office today announced the creation of an "Office of Transformation" along with a new chief officer for the agency, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying the goal of the office would be to "drive efficiency" in government and streamline state operations.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
  • The Arkansas legislature, SCOTUS and the 'normalization of influence peddling'

    Lobbyists routinely hosting "planned events" for legislators is insidious exactly because no one involved — neither lobbyists nor legislators — perceive their actions as wrong.

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation