'Systemic problems' found in parole system, Beebe says
Posted: November 4, 2013 at 10:12 a.m.
Updated: November 4, 2013 at 10:50 a.m.
A police investigation into the Department of Community Correction ordered after it came under fire following the arrest of a recently released eight-time absconder in a murder case found no criminal activity but other problems, officials said Monday.
Gov. Mike Beebe released the results of an administrative investigation into the Department of Community Correction conducted by Arkansas State Police, noting in a news release that it found "detailed and systemic problems within our parole system." He added in a news conference at his office that previously changed policies to address the problems will require millions in new funding when the legislature convenes for its fiscal session next year.
"While corrective actions have already been taken to address those problems, our work is not over yet," Beebe said in the statement. "It is always difficult to strike a balance between taking proper actions against those who violate their terms of parole while working to avoid overcrowding in our jails and prisons."
A June 17 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette revealed the lengthy parole-violation history of Darrell Dennis before his arrest in the kidnapping and killing of 18-year-old Forrest Abrams on May 10. That killing came days after Dennis was released from the Pulaski County jail, where he had been held on an absconder warrant.
Beebe, whose office said he was "extremely concerned" by what happened, asked then for an internal review and a police administrative investigation into the agency. The director of the agency retired two weeks after the story appeared and his successor, Sheila Sharp, has overseen numerous changes already made to the system.
Among them, new policies require a parolee awaiting a revocation hearing to remain locked up pending it, that parolees who repeatedly fail to report to a parole officer be jailed and that parolees facing felony charges be jailed until a revocation hearing is held.
Beebe said those changes have in turn led to jail overcrowding at the county level, a problem the legislature will have to solve through a "systemic influx of monies." There were about 2,200 inmates in county jails awaiting prison beds as of Monday, Beebe said.
He estimated the costs to address the overcrowding would reach at least $6 million a year for opening new prison beds and up to $8 million to pay counties back for housing state inmates in jails.
"There's just no way around it," Beebe said, noting the costs could even exceed those estimates. "... It's significant. It's not a minor matter."