Ashbel T. Wall is retiring in early 2018 after leading the Adult Corrections Institute for 18 years. Better known as A.T., he leaves his post as the longest serving warden in the nation with a reputation for bringing progressive reform to Rhode Island’s state prison system.
“A.T. is a treasure and has dedicated his life to public service,” said Governor Gina Raimondo in a press release from her office announcing his retirement. “A.T. is directly responsible for efforts that have saved lives in Rhode Island. Under his direction, we’re offering medication assisted treatment for inmates at the ACI struggling with substance use disorder. For nearly two decades as the director of corrections, A.T. has been a model of professionalism and has earned the respect of his peers across the country. I am personally grateful for the three decades of service he has given to Rhode Island.”
Wall has a stellar reputation of advocating for and implementing progressive reform in Rhode Island’s prison system. The governor’s press release lauded him for being a “central component of Rhode Island’s nation-leading action plan to prevent overdose” and for developing “reentry programs that connect inmates and parolees with job training and apprenticeship opportunities. ” More recently, he was a leading voice for the Justice Reinvestment laws that passed the General Assembly last session. Wall was also an advocate for RI Future’s Prison Op/Ed Project, which taught opinion writing to ACI inmates.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished over the last 30 years,” Wall said in the press release. “We have expanded, upgraded and improved our services, have invested in evidence-based programs which have helped reduce recidivism and have taken steps to fight the opioid overdose crisis. It has been my privilege to work with such a talented, knowledgeable, dedicated and conscientious group of professionals in the Department who provide supervision, support and coverage to ensure public safety. I appreciate the opportunity Governor Raimondo and her predecessors have given me to serve this state.”
Read this post Wall wrote for the Rhode Island Foundation for insight into his thinking.
A native Rhode Islander, Wall first came to work for the ACI in 1987, as the assistant director of Corrections after a two year stint leading then-Gov. Ed DiPrete’s criminal justice policy. Prior to that, he was a New York City prosecutor before working for the Vera Institute of Justice, whose mission statement is: “To drive change. To urgently build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.”
Wall was respected – if not always loved – by some incarcerated people, according to Bruce Reilly, a former RI Future writer who began contributing while he in the ACI.
“Many of us fighting for criminal justice reforms over the past two decades found him to be a respectful adversary,” he said.
“Running a prison system is a difficult job, to say the least. A.T,” Reilly told RI Future this morning. “Wall has been criticized for being ‘soft’ and for being ‘cruel,’ and probably on the same day. A.T. learned, grew, and was part of a cultural shift away from brutal punishments designed to crush people who will ultimately return to the community. As America struggles to find more sustainable approaches to the issues we criminalize (mental illness, drug use, addiction, homelessness, unresolved trauma, and unemployment), hopefully the next prison director can build upon A.T.’s respect for education, treatment, and reentry programming. In the current era, progress is far from safe. It is a luxury that he is able to retire from this work, but hopefully he will use his new freedom and expertise to stay engaged in the work, and push for a public health and community development approach to the criminal justice system. But regardless of where his road leads, I wish him good health and happiness.”
Raimondo, according to the press release, “plans to launch a nation-wide search for a permanent director of corrections to identify a candidate with a similar level of experience, expertise and professionalism as Director Wall.”
Assistant ACI Director Patricia Coyne-Fague will serve as acting Director until the position is filled.