Corrections board approves rules for halfway house inmates

A list of rules for parolees from the Arkansas Department of Corrections who will be living in halfway houses in Pine Bluff was approved by the Board of Corrections earlier this week.

The Department of Community Corrections will be operating four transitional-living facilities on the grounds of department property on the west side of the city although, according to department spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp, no date has been set for opening the facility.

The board’s action in approving the rules came after the Arkansas Supreme Court in February reversed Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt’s decision last year that the state needed to get approval to operate the facility from the city Planning Commission.

Writing for the five-judge majority, Chief Justice Jim Hannah said the Department of Community Corrections was immune from being sued.

The halfway houses will allow male inmates who have been approved for parole but have no relatives or other persons they could stay with to be released from prison.

Four buildings that were formerly used to house DCC personnel during training were converted into the halfway houses that, according to earlier information from DCC, will house about 30 former inmates.

An administrative regulation from the corrections board said offenders housed at the facility will be obligated to pay rent and must be employed or in school during their stay. Failure to pay the rent or maintain employment would be grounds for removal.

The buildings are on the same grounds as the DCC’s Southeast Arkansas Community Corrections Center, which houses non-violent female offenders, and males housed at the halfway houses will be prohibited from having contact with the females.

New fencing was added to the facility to separate the women’s unit from the halfway houses, and a new road was constructed for entrance and exits.

Other rules established by the board for former inmates who stay in the facility include being drug- and alcohol-free, buying and preparing their own food, doing their own laundry and keeping their living areas clean.

Visitors will not be allowed, nor will pets, and the former inmates will be subject to random drug and alcohol testing without prior notice.

Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said earlier this week that city officials found out about the board meeting late Monday morning, and because of a pending City Council meeting and the short notice, were not able to send representatives to the meeting, which began at 1 p.m.

Hadden-Scott, who had filed suit against the Department of Community Corrections on the instructions of the city council, also said the city currently has no options to stop the facility from opening.