LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Board of Corrections on Wednesday approved new policies governing repeat parole violators and endorsed recommendations to seek $31 million from the Legislature to cover immediate needs and another $106 million for 2014-2015 fiscal year.
About $85 million of the request for next fiscal year would be used to build a new 1,000-bed prison.
“I definitely think we have to put the Legislature on notice that we’re going to have to have a new facility,” board member Bobby Glover said.
The board unanimously approved nine new parole policies, including one that would require any parolee who has been issued three or more evading supervision warrants to be jailed until his or her next hearing. The policy also stipulates a parolee has evaded supervision if her or she cannot be located for 30 days. Another requires an automatic revocation hearing for a parolee who cannot be located within 30 days.
The board has been working with the state Department of Community Correction for months to develop new policies to address several high-profile cases involving parolees, including the arrest in May of parolee Darrell Dennis, who was charged in the murder of a teenager while free despite multiple felony arrests.
Board Chairman Benny Magness said the policies are in addition to new policies approved in July after Dennis’ arrest. Since then, parole violators have been jailed pending their hearings leading to a significant increase in the number of prisoners held in county jails, he said.
The board also approved a series of new policies for the Omega Technical Violators Center in Malvern. Those changes include extending the required time at that facility from 60 to 90 days for first timers, and 60 to 120 days for second-time offenders. Parolees who violate the terms of their parole will be returned to the main prison population.
The changes were recommended by DCC to improve the program designed to help parolees with their job skills and reentry into society, and reduce the recidivism rate at the facility.
After approving the new policies, the board was told that more money will be needed to not only implement the new policies, but also build new facilities.
DCC Director Sheila Sharp said her agency needs about $832,227 immediately to repay county jails for housing parolees being held until their parole hearings. The board agreed to ask the Legislative Council for an immediate supplemental appropriation.
Sharp said the department would ask the Legislature during next year’s fiscal session for an additional $1.1 million to pay county jails through the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, and for about $4.6 million in supplemental funding to cover the salaries of about 150 new parole and probation supervisors and officers through June 30.
The department would need an additional $11..9 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year to keep those new employees, she said.
Sharp also said the department plans to ask for $133,864 in supplemental appropriations to hire five new officers at the technical violators unit and purchase equipment. The unit will need an additional $268,091 in the 2014-2015 fiscal budget to keep those employees, she said.
Larry May, assistant director of the state Department of Correction, said prison officials would seek $25 million in additional funding to add nearly 500 new beds, reimburse county jails and pay employees overtime and holiday pay they are owed.
May said the department plans to request $106 million in new money for fiscal year 2014-2015 to build a new 1,000-bed unit and keep the beds added this fiscal year open, repay county jails for housing state inmates awaiting beds in the prison system and to pay employees overtime and holiday pay they are owed.
Also Wednesday, the board released its final report on its investigation into the state’s parole and probation services. The report was requested after Dennis’ arrest.
The report found that 89 percent of the more than 14,000 parolees in the state report as required, and that the majority of the parolees who fail to report are located in the Little Rock parole office’s jurisdiction.
“Furthermore,” the report said, “there is an inherent risk associated with supervision of any parolee, and our findings with regard to certain data, should not suggest that the incarceration or parole revocation of all absconders-non-reporters would effectively eliminate all threats to public safety by parolees.”
A state police investigation released earlier this month by Gov. Mike Beebe found “systematic problems” but no criminal wrongdoing in parole officials’ handling of Dennis.