Arkansas Corrections officials say they are working to turn back rules that led to a steep increase in inmate numbers beginning in 2013. Projections indicate the state's inmate population will grow by almost 26,000 by the year 2025.
According to Department of Community Corrections spokeswoman, Dina Tyler, both the parole board and the correction board are preparing proposals for upcoming meetings to roll back stricter probation rules, with the goal of shortening the stay of low-risk re-offenders.
“We know people are coming to prison, new commitments at a higher rate. We know that they are staying longer on average than they used to,” said Tyler.
The Arkansas Board of Corrections changed rules for parolees in 2013 following a series in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on eight-time parole absconder Darell Dennis, who was a suspect in the murder of an 18-year old in Northwest Arkansas. Last month he was sentenced to life in prison for the killing.
The Board of Correction's response to strengthen parole rules in the state led to many more revocations for offenders of both violent and low-level crimes.
“The number of parolees being returned to prison is up and continues to remain up and the use of probation has dropped. So you roll all those things together and it equals what we’re seeing in Arkansas,” she added.
Arkansas corrections officials are responding most recently to report presented at last week's meeting by nonprofit group JFA Associates. It shows inmate numbers are growing at a 3 percent rate in the state, outpacing national growth averages six to seven times.
Tyler said both boards will consider proposals at their next meetings to reduce sentence time for all but the most violent re-offenders.
“It may be for a shorter period of time. It may be 30 days, 60 days, 90 days or 130 days, instead of six months or a year. For those offenders who pose a higher risk, for those convicted of a higher-level crime, that’s different,” said Tyler.
According to JFA Associates and Tyler, Arkansas is the only state in the nation that brings all repeat offenders back to prison after they are charged with a new crime.
According to Tyler, an immediate goal is to reduce recidivism by 20 percent. Currently, 5,000 inmates return to prison every year in the state.