Tucker Unit

Coordinates: 34°27′16″N 91°54′56″W / 34.454539°N 91.915571°W / 34.454539; -91.915571
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Tucker Unit
Locationnear Tucker, Arkansas
Coordinates34°27′16″N 91°54′56″W / 34.454539°N 91.915571°W / 34.454539; -91.915571
Managed byArkansas Department of Correction
Aerial view of the Tucker Unit, U.S. Geological Survey, February 26, 1994
Map of the Tucker Unit, U.S. Geological Survey, July 1, 1984

The Tucker Unit is a prison in Dudley Lake Township, unincorporated Jefferson County, Arkansas, 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Pine Bluff. It is operated by the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC).[1] Tucker is one of the state of Arkansas's "parent units" for male prisoners; it serves as one of several units of initial assignment for processed male prisoners.[2] It is in proximity to, but not within, the Tucker census-designated place.[3]

A Maximum Security Unit was constructed a short distance north of the Tucker Unit in 1983.


'Old Sparky' at Tucker Unit

In 1916 the State of Arkansas purchased about 4,400 acres (1,800 ha) of land to build the Tucker Unit. In 1933 Governor of Arkansas Junius Marion Futrell closed the Arkansas State Penitentiary ("The Walls"), and some prisoners moved to Tucker from the former penitentiary. In the process the designated execution chamber moved to Tucker.[4] "Old Sparky", in operation within the state system from 1926 to 1948, was the equipment used to kill condemned prisoners at Tucker.[5] In 1964 Charles Fields was executed at Tucker; he was the last prisoner to be executed at Tucker before the Arkansas death penalty was declared against the U.S. constitution.[4] In history, the prison housed the state's white convicts.[6] In addition the prison housed some black female prisoners.[4]

In 1967 four men escaped from the unit and abandoned a vehicle used in the escape in Fort Scott, Kansas.[7]

The Arkansas prison scandal occurred in the unit and involved the "Tucker Telephone."[8] Due to the notoriety of the device, as of 2000, visitors to the Tucker Unit on a regular basis ask the warden if the telephone on their desk is the "Tucker Telephone."[9]

In 1974, death row inmates, previously housed at the Tucker Unit, were moved to the Cummins Unit.[10] In 1978 a new death chamber opened in Cummins, so Tucker was no longer the place of execution in Arkansas.[4] In 1986 male death row inmates were moved to the Maximum Security Unit.[11] On August 22, 2003, all 39 of the state's death row inmates, all of them male, were moved to the Supermax at the Varner Unit.[12]

In 2000 the ADC's final 100 person barracks was split into two smaller barracks.[4]

In 2009 prison guards left a prisoner in his own feces for a weekend. The prisoner had to be hospitalized. The Associated Press discovered that prison guards had received lap dances while working. The prison system fired several correctional employees. The same year, a Heber Springs, Arkansas man who was wanted for not reporting to his parole officer appeared at the Tucker Unit. A prison guard shot him dead. Dina Tyler, a spokesperson for the prison system, said that the man crashed his car into the car owned by the assistant warden and was "very close to the officers" prior to his death.[13]

On August 7, 2017 a group of prisoners held guards hostage, but later released them.[14]

Composition and operations[edit]

Maximum Security Unit

The Tucker Unit and the Maximum Security Unit are in Dudley Lake Township.[15]

Of the land at the Tucker Unit, 4,500 acres (1,800 ha) are used to farm rice and soybeans.[16]

The unit houses a campus of the Riverside Vocational Technical School.[17] Education in the Tucker Unit began in 1968, when the England School District started a night program.[18]

ADC officials believe that the Island of Hope Chapel was the first freestanding prison chapel in the Southern United States.[19] It was originally dedicated in November 1969 and, after a renovation, rededicated on May 13, 2011.[20] Its original construction was financed by a total of $80,000 donated by Johnny Cash and various other persons. The prison has a sloping ceiling and a plexyglas fauxleaded window behind the altar, and it is made of cinder blocks. Prior to the renovation the prison had issues with rainwater leaking into the structure. The renovation, which included constructing a new roof; adding finishes to floors, pews, and walls; and installing new panes of glass, had a price of $175,000. The ADC may finance repairs and maintenance, but as per the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution it cannot build a new religious facility.[19]

In historical eras, white prisoners worked in the fields, and the prison housed clothing, license plate, and shoe factories.[6]

As of 2009, 532 prisoners live in the Maximum Security Unit. That year, of the prisoners, 100 live in a barrack-style dormitory and have jobs in the prison.[13]

Drug-related deaths[edit]

Arkansas' prisons, including Tucker, have experienced a rash of inmates dying of drug overdoses while serving their prison sentence behind bars in the year 2018. This phenomenon is not just isolated in Arkansas but rather nation-wide. The drugs have been thought to be either fentanyl or synthetic marijuana.[21] Varner Unit, Tucker's sister unit, experienced five drug-related inmate deaths in a four-day span during August 2018. Dan Shelton, who was 54 years old serving a 40-year sentence for kidnapping, burglary, and others, was the second of two inmates at Tucker who died in the same week during October 2018.[22] The other inmate, Harrison Flanery, was 46 years old and serving a 14-year sentence which began in 2014 for sexual assault.[23]

Notable prisoners[edit]

Maximum Security Unit prisoners[edit]

Non-death row

Death row and non-death row

Death row:


  1. ^ "Tucker Unit." Arkansas Department of Correction. Retrieved on July 11, 2010.
  2. ^ "Guide for Family and Friends." Arkansas Department of Correction. 2 (4/27). Retrieved on July 18, 2010.
  3. ^ "Jefferson County" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. pp. 4–5. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-07-09. Retrieved 2023-05-30.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Prison History and Gallery." Arkansas Department of Correction. Retrieved on September 7, 2010.
  5. ^ "Gallery." Arkansas Department of Correction. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Federal Writers' Project. Arkansas: A Guide to the State. US History Publishers, 1958. 346. Retrieved from Google Books on March 6, 2011. ISBN 1-60354-004-0, ISBN 978-1-60354-004-9
  7. ^ "Link Truck Here in Prison Flight." The Fort Scott Tribune. Tuesday January 17, 1967. Retrieved from Google News (1 of 4) on March 6, 2011.
  8. ^ Champion, Dean J. Dictionary of American Criminal Justice: Key Terms and Major Supreme Court Cases. Taylor & Francis, 1998. 9. Retrieved from Google Books on August 18, 2010. ISBN 1-57958-073-4, ISBN 978-1-57958-073-5.
  9. ^ Feeley, Malcolm M. and Edward L. Rubin. Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons. Cambridge University Press, 2000. 58. Retrieved from Google Books on March 5, 2011. ISBN 0-521-77734-8, ISBN 978-0-521-77734-6
  10. ^ "2006 Facts Brochure." Arkansas Department of Correction. July 1, 2005-June 30, 2006. 25 (25/38). Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  11. ^ "2006 Facts Brochure" (Archive). Arkansas Department of Correction. July 1, 2005-June 30, 2006. 26 (26/38). Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  12. ^ "Death Row On The Move" (Archive). KAIT. August 26, 2003. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  13. ^ a b "Arkansas Inmate Nearly Dies After Left in Feces." (Archive) Associated Press at Fox News. June 22, 2009. Retrieved on April 15, 2013.
  14. ^ "Maximum security inmates take over Tucker unit, officers inside". KTHV. 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  15. ^ "2020 CENSUS - CENSUS BLOCK MAP: Dudley Lake township, AR" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. p. 2 (PDF p. 3/4). Retrieved 2022-08-01.
  16. ^ "2006 Fact Brochure." Arkansas Department of Correction. 8 (8/38). Retrieved on March 8, 2011.
  17. ^ "Campuses Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine." Riverside Vocational Technical School. Retrieved on March 6, 2011.
  18. ^ "History And Description Of The Arkansas Correctional School Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine." Arkansas Correctional School. Retrieved on March 7, 2011.
  19. ^ a b Blad, Evie. "Water again seen sacred at repaired prison chapel" (Archive). Arkansas Online. May 14, 2011. Retrieved on February 25, 2016.
  20. ^ "2011 Annual Report" (Archive). Arkansas Department of Correction. p. 2/6. Retrieved on February 25, 2016.
  21. ^ Pederson, Jason. "K2 is killing Arkansas inmates". KATV. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  22. ^ Reese, Brittany. "Arkansas prison inmate found dead in Tucker Unit". KATV. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  23. ^ "Arkansas inmate convicted in sex-assault case dies after being found unresponsive at prison". Arkansas Online. 2018-10-29. Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  24. ^ "Carpenter, Davis D." (Archive) Arkansas Department of Corrections. Retrieved on February 26, 2013.
  25. ^ "Murderer Moved to Death Watch Cell" (Archive). Associated Press at The Oklahoman. April 16, 1995. Retrieved on March 13, 2015.
  26. ^ "Trail of Terror: 25 Years After the Ronald Gene Simmons Murders Part 1". Archived from the original on 2013-01-17.

External links[edit]