Arkansas Prisons Reach Record Population After Policy Change

Oct 25, 2013

File photo of inmates at Cummins Prison in Varner in 1994.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas’ prison population is soaring to levels never before seen because of a new policy requiring that parolees awaiting a revocation hearing remain locked up until one is held. The change was enacted after a repeat parole absconder was arrested this year for murder.

Shea Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, says this has inmates back up, waiting to be transferred to state prisons.

“We are experiencing a historic high in the inmate population. As of Thursday, we had 2,123 state inmates housed in county jails and that’s a number of course that has spiked since July, so we are literally busting at the seams as far as finding bed space for our inmates,” Wilson said.

The Arkansas Parole Board is trying to address the problem in the short term by invoking the Emergency Powers Act.

"That allows inmates who are parole eligible to leave prison up to 90 days early or up to a year early for the extended EPA, so we are looking at some measures that will allow us to alleviate some of the population, but that will also make room to bring more inmates in, out of the county jails.”

Wilson says while they do expect the situation to eventually level off, the department will need more money from the legislature next year to expand the number of available prison beds and staff.