Judge sets hearing on halfway house issue

Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr. has set a hearing on a request by the city of Pine Bluff that would force the Arkansas Department of Community Correction to obtain city approval before opening a half-way house for paroled inmates.

The hearing will be at 9:30 a.m. May 7 in Wyatt’s courtroom on the second floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

A petition filed April 5 by Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said DCC’s plans to convert four duplexes, formerly used to house correctional officers in training, into half-way houses for approximately 30 inmates who have been granted parole is an attempt by DCC to alter its current facility from a more restricted use to a less restricted use, which is prohibited by city ordinances.

“Neither the Pine Bluff city officials nor the Pine Bluff Planning Commission was consulted by DCC prior to making the decision to establish the half-way house within the city limits,” Hadden-Scott said in the petition. “Arkansas law requires the entity to conduct a public hearing and provide notice of the hearing to residents within 1,000 feet of the proposed site.”

Hadden-Scott said no such hearing was held.

“The city of Pine Bluff will suffer irreparable harm if DCC is permitted to use a portion of the facility for a half-way/transitional house, in that approximately 30 parolees will be concentrated, in close proximity, of the citizens of that area,” the city filing said.

Hadden-Scott said that because some of the parolees who will be housed at the facility might have convictions for violent or sex related crimes, “the citizens are concerned for their welfare and the welfare of their children and grandchildren.”

The proposed half-way houses would be located on property adjacent to DCC’s facility that houses female offenders, and would be separated from that facility by two sets of fences. Additional cameras and lighting would also be added, and access to the facility would be gained by a new road.

Department of Community Corrections spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp has said previously that the department has not yet decided who will be housed at the half-way houses, or how long they will be permitted to stay. While there, the paroled inmates will be expected to work and pay rent.