Panel told more beds needed as new parole rules fill jails


LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Corrections was told Monday that increasing numbers of parolees are being locked up across the state because of recent policy changes and that more prison beds are needed to accommodate the influx.

Board Chairman Benny Magness said the number of state inmates being held in county jails had swelled to 1,400 Monday, including about 500 parolees being held for revocation hearings.

State Prison Director Ray Hobbs told the board nearly 300 beds in state facilities across the state ready for use, but that it would cost $8 million to hire employees and operate the facilities.

The board took no action Monday. Magness said later he expects the overcrowding issue to be back on the board’s September agenda.

“We’re not whining,” Magness said after the meeting. “We’re trying to inform the people, along with informing ourselves. Somebody is going to have to put more money in this bucket.”

Last month the prison board instituted a variety of new policies and regulations to address concerns about the Department of Community Correction’s handling of a parolee accused of committing murder while free despite multiple arrests. Since then, inmate backup into county jails has grown, Hobbs told the board.

“Remember, everything you do to the DCC has an affect on ADC (Arkansas Department of Correction,” Magness said. “And, everything you do to the ADC has an affect on DCC.”

In July, the board approved a series of new mandates in an effort to improve the disciplining and monitoring of parolees accused of new crimes or parole violations. The new mandates range from improved documentation to prohibiting the release of parolees after their second failure to appear in court violation — down from four — and requiring parolees to be jailed pending a mental health evaluation.

In the past month, more than 800 parolees have been held in jail under the new mandates rather than be released pending a hearing, the board was told.

On Monday, there were 14,753 inmates in state prisons across the state, about 280 above capacity.

Magness told the board that the prison population becomes critical when the county jail backup reaches about 2,000 and Hobbs said there are some short-term solutions.

Hobbs said there there are 100 beds at the McPherson Unit in Newport, 100 beds at the North Central Unit at Calico Rock, 88 beds at the Malvern Unit and 52 beds at the Northwest Arkansas Work Release Center in Springdale which are ready but have yet to be funded. He estimated the cost to operate those facilities at about $8 million.

He also said prison officials are considering a proposal to refurbish the old Pine Bluff Diagnostic Unit to house about 400 inmates and some parolees waiting for hearings.