The prison investigation chronology to date

Sometime on or before Jan. 19, Arkansas prison officials moved Jason Baldwin from the Tucker Unit to the state’s Supermax Unit, apparently as part of a sweeping internal investigation into a number of illegal activities, including the use of illegal computers. Though physically separate, the Supermax Unit stands on the same property as the lower-security Varner Unit, and the Arkansas Department of Correction lists the Supermax as part of the Varner Unit.

On Jan. 22, prison spokesman Dina Tyler confirmed that Baldwin had been placed on “investigative status.” She wrote in an email: “The inmate tracking system shows that he [Baldwin] hasn’t been charged with a rule violation and that his class has not changed. He is still a 1-C, which is the highest class that he can attain. (He can’t be a 1-A or a 1-B because he has a capitol conviction.) He is not on punitive status. But apparently, something has happened that is being looked into. He may or may not be accused of a rule violation when the investigation is done.”

On Jan. 24, Charlie Frago of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that two prison employees had been fired, one had resigned and four others had been suspended for allegedly accepting cash from inmates in exchange for job transfers or access to contraband computers. Tyler said investigators had confiscated at least six contraband computers and additional components. According to Tyler, most of the contraband items were found in out buildings—small structures not connected to the main building—on the prison’s 4,420-acre farm. Tyler said investigators were trying to determine whether inmates had access to the computers and if they paid money to play game or watch movies.

Baldwin was assigned to a job in one of those buildings late last year. He and one other clerk worked for a major on the prison staff in charge of farming operations. In an interview last November, Baldwin said his job nvolved keeping track of “time, tools and training” for the approximately 875 inmates who worked on the hoe squads under the major’s supervision. Baldwin said he liked the new assignment, away from the main prison building, because it afforded him “a lot of peace and quiet.”

Baldwin had been scheduled to be married in a ceremony at Tucker on Jan. 24. The wedding did not take place.

In an email Jan. 25, Tyler said that 19 inmates had been transferred and placed on investigative status. She said that, as far as she knew, none had been charged with a crime or rule violation, though, “That will likely change at some point.” Asked whether Baldwin remained under investigation, she said he did. “I can’t say at this point that he’s part of the big investigation,” she wrote, “but feel free to connect the dots.”

On Jan. 27, Frago reported that another employee at the Tucker Unit had resigned and that the probe had expanded to other prison units. The discovery of illegal computers constitutes a major security breach within the prison department. The seriousness of the breach would be compounded if inmates using them gained to access the Internet or email.

Also on Jan. 27, Baldwin’s fiancee Jen, (who has asked that her last name not be released), reported that she had met with Baldwin the day before. She said he was in good spirits and that the wedding will be rescheduled.