State lawmakers are considering ways to fix troubling trends with Arkansas’ parole system. The joint Judiciary Committee met Wednesday looking at why repeat offender rates are high, near the 70-percent mark.
Some legislators were particularly concerned with a policy directive from 2007 authorizing the discharge of those who failed to report to their parole officer if their original discharge date had passed.
Critics say it allows parolees to hide out and be set free if they hid long enough. The policy, sent in a memo, was meant to be a temporary 60 day plan to clear backlogged files that included the dead.
Republican Senator Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot said the conscious choice to continue the policy presents a concern over the prevailing atmosphere at state agencies.
"It concerns me that we consciously did that for years. Still, I'm more interested in what we're going to do to move forward. But I just want to make sure that type of atmosphere, that frame of mind has got to be... is it public? Is it safety? Number one for the public and if it's not then we're not going to do it. That continues to concern me," said Williams.
Deputy Director of Parole Dan Roberts said he wasn’t aware of the memo, though Senator David Sanders said a copy was sent to Roberts.
"I can assure you that particular memo and the policy state wide will be changed and has been changed, unofficially already. But I will make sure that it's reinforced, that it is changed," said Roberts.
The hearing also took testimony from Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola who called for more technological solutions and suggesting risk assessments should be changed to treat non-violent career criminals as violent offenders which would decrease the likelihood of parole.
Democratic Senator Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff argued that providing mental health and job assistance to parolees would decrease the rate of repeat offenders and do more to benefit the community as a whole.