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Prison Reform Costs Have Trickled Down To County, City

When the Arkansas Legislature was taking steps to enact prison reform legislation two years ago some county and city officials warned that the burden of the legislation would fall to their agencies and, essentially, to the public in general.

Though there has been much analysis and even studies lauding the reforms, the so-called Public Safety Improvement Act, during a police update portion of the Booneville City Council meeting last week, Booneville Police Chief Al Brown said that prediction was on target.

“It’s creating, more or less, a revolving door,” said Brown.

That obviously contradicts what the website www.rightoncrime.com article by Janet Moll said in October of last year.

“So far, this legislation has correlated with a 30 percent drop in parole revocations and a 15 percent drop in probation revocations. The total prison population dropped 7.1 percent in 2011 alone,” Moll wrote.

Brown also said the reforms were essentially about saving the state money, which is, well, on the money. Arkansas Department of Corrections director Ray Hobbs said in his 2012 annual report, Act 570 of 2011 could save the state as much as $875 million.

To emphasize his point, Brown told the council he had received notification from state prison officials that an individual arrested in April of 2012 for delivery of methamphetamine is about to be paroled.

Brown said he suspects the man was in prison for less than a year.

It’s not that Brown does not believe in rehabilitation. The individual he referenced, one Brown said he knows to have been arrested at least six times and has been an escapee from Logan County once, has been sentenced on multiple occasions — the chief said he has received over 30 years throughout his life — but the man does very little actual time behind bars.

“And he’s going to be back in the community again,” said Brown.

While the person in question may not repeat as an offender, Brown said, the more early parolees there are, the greater the chances crime rates, even non-violent ones, will escalate.

The particular inmate to which Brown is referring, and others, are paroled because they have been convicted of non-violent offenses and they are the first to be cut loose when new inmates are processed into the prisons.

That is also a difficult ordeal. Brown told the council last week he counted 12 prisoners in the Logan County Detention Center who are being held for the Department of Corrections.

The problem that creates is an overcrowding there — the jail is rated for 36 males and four females. Last Tuesday the number housed, according to the census reading outside the jail was 49. By Wednesday it was down to 40, including 11 who were ADC detainees.

That means the holding facility in Booneville, where the stated policy is moving all felony offenders to the detention center following the issuance of charges, is forced to keep prisoners it normally does not house. Last Wednesday there were three people jailed in Booneville, two of which should be in the detention center.

Further exacerbating the problem, Brown told the council is probation and parole officers once had the authority to send those violating parole back to prison.

“They could do the paperwork and you were going back to ADC. They can’t do that anymore,” said Brown. “Now they can send you to the local jail for 48 hours, so there again it puts right back into our lap. We have to pay for it, the money comes out of our pocket having to feed them while they’re in our jail.”

More severe violations are “sent up the chain” where somebody in Little Rock determines if the offender should be re-incarcerated, which would likely set someone else free.

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