MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. – One of the main problems in Arkansas’ judicial system is prison overcrowding. While o others work to fix the issue, an Arkansas sheriff explained who is reaping the benefits of this situation.
Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said repeat offenders take advantage of the efforts to decrease the prison population. As a mid-sized county, Montgomery said the number of repeat offenders is drastic.
“We’ve had people paroled from prison who have already been to prison three, five, eight, 11, 15 times. I believe that it’s almost just like a revolving door,” he said. “They’re letting them out so fast that there’s no deterrent. They’re out hurting society and committing new crimes against the citizens of this state.”
According to findings from a 2012 release cohort by the Arkansas Department of Correction, 53 percent of the inmates released in 2012 returned to jail in three years.
He said when the prison fills, some of the inmates get housed in county jails. It puts a strain on county jails across Arkansas including those in the Delta, which has him begging for help.
“Please! You got to get them out of there because I got them sleeping on the floor or whatever the case may be,” he said. “So the prisons are under a lot of pressure to create bed space. How they are creating it is by kicking folks out early.”
Solomon Graves, public information officer and legislative liaison for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, released a statewide population report that states Arkansas has 1,340 inmates backed up in county jails.
“We also have 336 inmates housed in a Texas facility,” Graves said.
The population report states even the ADC facilities have more inmates than the capacity listed.
Following the Council of State Governments report in April 2015, a bipartisan Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force was formed to combat the overcrowding. Montgomery said he feels the task force did a lot of great work, but none of it reflected what he suggested when he testified before them in Little Rock.
“When I cornered them and asked if their recommendations were done, would they still need more prison beds and they said yes. Yet, none of that was a part of the recommendations,” he said. “The department requested funding for 576 beds. As of now, we have not received any indication that we will receive the necessary funding.”
Graves said prison overcrowding could be lessened with the passage of Senate Bill 136, which has been proposed in this year’s legislative session.
“The department is supportive of the reforms in SB136,” he said. “The reforms within that bill will help to divert low-level offenders to Community Correction Centers, thereby freeing up prison beds while maintaining the public’s safety.”
That could also set up a way for repeat offenders to not cheat the system. However, Montgomery said Arkansas should look at how Missouri is fighting its ever-growing population system.
According to the Missouri General Assembly, if an offender has already been in prison once then the offender must now serve 40 percent of their sentence. Those who have been in prison twice before would have to serve 50 percent of their sentence. Those who have three or more previous prison sentences must serve at least 80 percent of their sentence.
State Sen. Bryan King filed Senate Bill 177 in this year’s session. It would require someone who’s been sentenced three or more times to serve at least 80 percent of their sentence in Arkansas.
Montgomery said King’s bill may not pass because it should be staggered more like Missouri’s law.
“But I very much agree with his thinking,” he said. “He is like us. He is sick and tired of the repeat offenders that continue to get in and out of prison over and over again.”