BY SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – Officials of the state Department of Community Correction presented tougher new parole policies to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
They include a proposal to limit the number of violations a parolee may incur before being sent back to prison. The state Board of Correction will also consider the proposed rules changes.
The Department operates the state parole system, which has been under pressure to adopt stricter regulations since last summer, when news reports revealed that some parolees had committed numerous new infractions and yet were not required to go back to prison.
One Arkansas parolee avoided revocation hearings even though he had been arrested on numerous felony charges, until he was charged with murder. To prevent similar occurrences from happening again, legislators pressured the Department to make policy changes. The governor ordered a State Police review of the parole procedures.
The director of the Department and other top officials left the agency. The Board of Correction, which oversees state prison units and the state’s parole system, is working on a set of tougher new policies. One result is that since last summer, about 1,600 parolees who had been free are now being housed in county jails for various violations.
Currently, a parolee who commits a technical violation, such as failing to report to his parole officer on a timely basis, is sent to the technical violator center for 60 days. Some parolees have been sent to the technical violators’ center numerous times.
Under the proposed new rules, a parolee can be sent only twice to the technical violators center. After a third infraction he would be returned to prison to serve out his sentence behind bars.
Another proposed change is to lengthen from 60 to 90 days the time a parolee must stay in the technical violators center for a first infraction. The second stay would be lengthened from 90 to 120 days.
Parolees who are arrested on new charges for sexual or violent offenses will not be sent to the technical violators center. To free up space in the center, as many as 300 non-violent offenders will be monitored with electronic ankle bracelets.
The crackdown on parole violators has filled county jails throughout Arkansas. More than 2,300 inmates were being held in county jails waiting for hearings or processing into the state prison system. They are under the state’s jurisdiction and the state Correction Department will reimburse county governments for the costs of holding them. In the 2014 fiscal session the legislature will consider appropriations of $7 million to $8 million for reimbursing county jails.
The legislature will consider an additional $6 million to open new prison units. Also, the Community Correction Department wants to hire additional parole officers to bring down average caseloads, which are now almost twice the national average. A preliminary figure presented by the head of the Department was for 161 new parole officers.
More than 16,000 inmates are inside state prison units and another 23,000 are out on parole. About 29,000 are on probation, 2,283 are under drug court supervision and 443 are in boot camp. In all, the Department of Community Correction supervises more than 55,000 violators.