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Department of Correction Explains Program Rules Allowing Murderer to be Trustee Inmate

PINE BLUFF, AR (KARK)--"When you see someone clearly a danger to society where he could continue to be a danger to society and be under the Department of Correction supervision, I do think it raises a lot of questions," said State Senator David J. Sanders.
PINE BLUFF, AR (KARK)--"When you see someone clearly a danger to society where he could continue to be a danger to society and be under the Department of Correction supervision, I do think it raises a lot of questions," said State Senator David J. Sanders.

Sanders has been watching how Timothy Buffington's escape case has unfolded. He, along with countless members of the public, have questions as to how it happened.

"Correction officials need to answer those questions and give a bit of tutorial on the trustee program and what they will do to make sure this doesn't happen again," Sanders said.

Buffington was convicted of first degree murder for shooting his ex-wife to death in 1999. But he's been a trustee in the Department of Correction for more than 10 years, through its custody classification system.

"He had a good disciplinary record," Wilson said. "While he was convicted of first degree murder, he was only sentenced to 20 years. He was going to to be getting out in 2018."

And Buffington isn't the only murderer with trustee status. Nearly three dozen inmates convicted of first degree murder are trustees in the state, according to the Department of Correction.

Inmates receive that status from a Classification Committee at each unit, following a general set of criteria. Inmates are awarded or deducted points for behavior behind bars and risk factors.

"An inmate gets trustee status if they have a good disciplinary record, good work ethic, good marks on job performance, and generally behaving well and receives recommendations from their supervisors."

Certain inmates, will never reach trustee status, either due to disciplinary sanctions or the severity of their crimes.

"All inmates come in and they start at a Class II status. To be a trustee they have to earn Class I," Wilson said. " Those inmates with sex offenses, capital murder and things of that nature would not be eligible to be a trustee."

For inmates participating in the work release program, which allows inmates to travel away from the unit and hold a job in the community and return at night, first degree murder convictions also make those inmates ineliglble.

Wilson said the supervision for trustees is still more significant than the supervision for work release inmates.

"While he was outside the secure perimeter of the prison, he was inside prison grounds working where he was checked on regularly by officers to check on his whereabouts," Wilson said.

The timeline for when the last supervising official may have checked on Buffington hasn't been determined, Wilson said.

Buffington, according to Wilson, was the example of a model inmate until he walked away from detail and put elected officials, and the public, on alert.

"It's surprising this hasn't happened more, so I think they clearly missed one in this case. I think we need to look at what we can do to prevent this from happening again. And I think down the road, we'll get those answers," Sanders said.
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