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story.lead_photo.caption In this April 27, 2017, file photo, Solomon Graves, right, explains to members of the media the ground rules for selecting media witnesses for the scheduled execution of Kenneth Williams at the Cummins Unit prison at Varner, Ark. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday, July 23, 2020, named Graves, a former spokesman for the state's prisons and the Department of Correction's chief of staff as the new head of the prison and parole system. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel, File)

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday named the Department of Corrections chief of staff and former state prison system spokesman to head the department.

Hutchinson named Solomon Graves as the next secretary of the Department of Corrections, and his recommendation will go before the state Board of Corrections next week. Graves would replace Wendy Kelley, who announced last month that she was retiring.

Graves would take over the state prison and parole system as the state struggles with a coronavirus outbreak among its inmates. Nearly 3,800 inmates have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, and 25 have died of the illness since the pandemic began.

Graves has served as Kelley's chief of staff for the past year and before that was the public information officer for the Division of Correction. From 2007 to 2016, he was board administrator for the Parole Board.

Graves was the prison system's spokesman when Arkansas resumed executions in 2017 with a plan to put eight inmates to death before its supply of a lethal injection drug expired. The state ultimately executed four men.

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