LITTLE ROCK — A number of new policies and procedures regarding parolees who chronically violate their sentences were presented to a legislative committee Tuesday and some lawmakers suggested they be considered during next year’s fiscal session.
Other committee members, however, asked that the new policies be reviewed by outside experts before they are brought before the Legislature.
The state Board of Corrections is trying to schedule a meeting within the next week to consider the policy changes to address an incident in May in which a parolee was arrested and charged with murdering a teenager despite multiple arrests during his parole.
One of the policy changes under consideration 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 that a parolee has evaded supervision if he or she cannot be located for 30 days.
Another policy recommendation would require an automatic revocation hearing for a parolee who cannot be located within 180 days.
“We will be seeking legislative authority to have that put in the code during the next session,” said Sheila Sharp, director of the state Department of Community Correction. Current law covers only those on probation, she said.
Lawmakers praised the policy changes and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, asked if they could be considered during next year’s fiscal session.
“Obviously we need to address this authority to address absconders, on the parole side. I’m assuming we’re going to do that this fiscal session?” Hutchinson asked. “Do you have a plan to bring a package? If not, we may formulate our own plan.”
Mary Ruth Parker, vice chairman of the Board of Corrections, said the panel would “be happy to draft a framework of our plan.”
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, asked Parker and Sharp if the proposed policy changes have been reviewed by outside experts, such as the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, which has helped the state develop legislation on public safety issues, including major prison reform legislation in 2011.
Sharp said the agency had not sought outside experts, but rather relied on the parole officers and others in the field for input.
“I believe they are the true experts in Arkansas,” she said.
Walker questioned that statement, noting the murder case in which the parolee is charged and a report based on an Arkansas State Police investigation released Monday by Gov. Mike Beebe that found parole officials need more training and education.
“Since they need more training then maybe they haven’t had enough training,” Walker said. “Therefore, I don’t know how people who are not performing well can be regarded as experts.”
After the meeting, Parker told the Arkansas News Bureau, that the board would bring in outside experts to look at the new policies and that there would be a package of bills ready for lawmakers to consider in the 2014 fiscal session.
She said the Legislature would determine whether to consider non-fiscal legislation; it takes a three-fourths vote to be added to the agenda.
Also during the meeting, Sharp said her agency plans to ask the Legislature in next year’s fiscal session for additional money to hire as many as 161 new parole officers. She said the exact number had not been decided.
Parker also said that the Board of Corrections has started thinking about the need for a new prison to hold at least 1,000 inmates.
Lawmakers were told Tuesday that about 2,315 state inmates were being held in county jails across the state. About 300 of those were parolees taken into custody for violating their parole and waiting for a hearing.
“When you look at it from a board’s perspective you have to plan out several years for that work to be done,” Parker said.