Gov. Mike Beebe today released a State Police report on the state’s community correction system that followed an uproar over a slaying in which a parole absconder was charged.
Read David Koon’s report on the press conference below, but the governor’s summary hits the high spots of the ASP report. No crimes were found, but “systemic problems” were identified, particularly in Pulaski County. The systemis in need of work, some of it already underway with changes in top leadership. Tightening the parole system means more prisoners in county jails and more prisoners in state lockup, problems that could cost millions, the governor said. Beebe’s release:
Governor Mike Beebe today released the results of an exhaustive Arkansas State Police investigation into the Office of Adult Probation and Parole at the Department of Community Correction. Beebe requested the administrative investigation this summer after a parolee was charged in a Little Rock murder.
“While finding no criminal activity, this investigation detailed individual and systemic problems within our parole system, particularly in Pulaski County,” Governor Beebe said. “While corrective actions have already been taken to address those problems, our work is not over yet. It is always difficult to strike a balance between taking proper actions against those who violate their terms of parole while working to avoid overcrowding in our jails.”
The ASP report details the procedures that previously existed at DCC and the administrative decisions of some managers that slowed or avoided revocation hearings for some parole violators in Area 7, which includes Pulaski County. Many of those managers are no longer in supervisory positions at DCC, having been removed for other reasons or retiring as a result of these occurrences.
Policy changes made by the Board of Corrections have resulted in the incarceration of more parole violators, to the point where jail overcrowding has again become an issue. The Board of Corrections is scheduled to meet this week to further clarify certain procedures in the hope of alleviating those incidents of overcrowding.
KOON’S UPDATE ON THE JUMP…
Speaking with prison board chairman Benny Magness and Department of Community Correction director Sheila Sharp looking on, Beebe thanked the State Police for their investigation, saying that while the investigation hadn’t uncovered any criminal wrongdoing, it had exposed systemic problems in the parole system.
Beebe said that while the state is seeing the result of changes in policy that have occurred as a result of the Darrell Dennis case, those changes have “created a problem on the other end,” in the from of thousands of parole revocations, resulting in state prisoners — many of them parole revocations — stacked up in county jails awaiting a bed in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Beebe estimated that there are currently around 2,200 prisoners being held in county jails awaiting an ADC bed, with approximately 1,600 of those being held on parole revocations. Beebe said he hoped those numbers would level off.
“That’s another issue to deal with,” Beebe said. “We’re going to have to open new beds [in the ADC, and] we’re going to have to pay the counties a lot of money. There’s a huge monetary impact that the legislature’s going to have to address in February.”
Beebe estimated that the legislature will have to appropriate between $5 and $6 million annually for opening and operating new beds, which he called “a minimum.” In addition, Beebe said, the state will owe another $7-$8 million to counties to pay them back for holding state prisoners in county jails.
“There’s got to be a systemic influx of monies to address these policy changes and these issues come February,” Beebe said. “There’s just no way around it. You can’t have 2,200 folks backed up in county jails, needing more beds [in ADC] without creating a financial responsibility on the part of the state that has to be addressed.”
Beebe said that the corrections board is discussing strategies for dealing with the new policies, including more electronic monitoring. DCC Director Sharp said that DCC currently has around 300 wearable electronic monitoring devices. “We have about half of them in use,” she said, “but over the next few weeks, with some proposed policy changes, we may use them all.”
Though the financial ramifications of DCC policy tweaks still have to be dealt with, Beebe said that he has heard from parole officers that the changes put into place in the wake of the Dennis case are working, and “got a lot of peoples’ attention,” among repeat parole violators. “They tell me anecdotally – and I suppose this varies from parole officer to parole officer – but a lot of folks that they might have had trouble getting in before have gotten the message,” Beebe said.