by Max Brantley
He's been with the department 38 years, 16 as director as of next month, an uncommonly long stint for such a job nationwide. He's the longest-tenured Arkansas director.
A spokesman for the governor said Norris "absolutely" was not under pressure to retire. "It caught us off guard," Beebe spokesman Matt Decample said. Norris has had a few bruising rounds with legislators over escapes and other mishaps at prison units, not to mention an ongoing struggle to house prisoners under tight budget constraints. But Norris himself has generally been held above the fray over management failures at the prisons.
The announcement was to be made next week, but word of Norris' departure has been rapidly circulating in prison circles and Decample confirmed it when I asked. A more ceremonial announcement had been planned.
Norris announced his plans internally on Monday.
"I hate it! I really do. I wish he wouldn't," said Dina Tyler, a spokesman for the department.
"When you spend that much time in such a demanding and high pressure job," Tyler said, "there comes a point when it's time to retire."
Tyler said that Norris, 61, plans on spending more time with his family, in particular his two grandchildren. "The lure of grandchildren is very strong."
Said the governor in a prepared statement: "Larry Norris has spent a lifetime as a public servant, and has more than earned a restful retirement. He has shown consistent dedication over 39 years in service to the Department of Correction, and in a time when the average tenure for correctional directors is four years, Larry has led our DOC for 16. I will miss his contributions to the Department and his candid and straightforward style."
Norris' office released a statement that said it was "just time".He said he'd enjoyed the support of three governors and the Board of Corrections. “I believe the ADC is better than it was 16 years ago and that was our goal and now it’s just time for me to retire,” Norris said.