LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Monday the Arkansas Board of Corrections officially named Sheila Sharp the new director of the Department of Community Correction. Sharp is no stranger to the D.C.C., starting there in 1993 when the agency was first created. For the past 16 years she worked for the Arkansas Department of Correction, until she was asked to replace former D.C.C. head David Eberhard who resigned at the end of June.
"I wasn't really expecting this," said Sharp. "Didn't ask for this and I hate that it happened like that, but I'm in a good place right now."
Since taking over as head of the D.C.C. Sharp has been swamped with everything from personnel issues to legislative meetings to some intense on-the-job learning.
"It's been a real challenge, it's just been a lot of work. I've learned a lot," Shard said. "It's every day and I've put in 12-hour days so far and sometimes more and then I'm reading at night trying to learn and get ahead."
With six weeks on the job now under her belt Sharp is already shaking things up within the agency.
"Of course we've made some changes that were necessary changes," Sharp said. "We need to do a lot of work rebranding ourselves, our marketing, what we're doing, the good things that this agency is already doing."
One of her top priorities after taking over was fixing what Sharp says were problems within the Little Rock office.
"We had major issues with the Little Rock probation/parole office," added Sharp. "Turnover last year was 50%, and we have a lot of new staff, staff that haven't been sufficiently trained and a continuing turnover so our focus has been on stabilizing that office and getting them some help. We've been looking at those that we've lost, we had an issue with motivation in that office, bad morale, and so we've opened up communications."
"I've actually talked to all the officers, or most of the officers, in that office," Sharp went on to say. "I've listened to them, I've heard their concerns and we've made a lot of changes in some of the management practices."
With most of her time recently dedicated to legislative panels and public relations, Sharp said she's anxious to get back to focusing on public safety.
"Every day we have almost 57,000 offenders on probation and parole that we're responsible for supervision, and that's a lot of work," said Sharp. "Right now we're just having to be reactive and I'm a planner, I'd much rather be on the proactive side of things and we'll get there."
Sharp has also hired more officers to work in the Little Rock office and brought in officers from around the state to help the Little Rock team with its sizeable case load. A study released this year found that Little Rock receives the largest rate of released parolees and probationers in the U.S.
Sharp also said she's excited about a new system that will be operational within the next couple months where low-level offenders can report to probation or parole by using an automated kiosk. She says that should free up officers' time to focus on parolees with more serious criminal records.