The Arkansas Department of Correction reached a historic high inmate population last week as changes made this summer to the state’s parole system also put more inmates in the county jails while they wait for beds to open up in the crowed state prisons. As of Thurs of last week there were 2,213 state inmates being housed in county jails and this pushed the overall number of people in the custody of the state prison system to 16,867. In the latest count, the state prisons were at 106.4% capacity for men and 107.2% capacity for women. Overall 14,343 inmates were being held in state prisons, 876 inmates above capacity. The new policies that went into affect are that any parolee awaiting a revocation hearing must remain locked up until the hearing, any parolee who fails to report to his parole officer two or more times be jailed and a revocation hearing sought, and that any parolee charged with a felony or a violent or sex-related misdemeanor, must remain in custody until a revocation hearing can be held. The department of community correction’s director said that the spike in parolees being sent back to prison has contributed to the county jail backlog, but hopes that the increase will level off in coming months. They hope that what they have seen is just a correction in the system. During last week’s correction board meeting, the board attempted to alleviate some of the prison overcrowding by invoking the Emergency Powers Act to allow early release of about 180 inmates who were within 90 days of their parole eligibility and another 92 inmates who were within a year of parole eligibility. Also, the board unanimously approved using up to $4 million to begin renovating the former 459 bed Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff that closed in January 2012 and caused the transfer of inmates to other prisons. The money is from the state prison construction trust fund and will fund one of three phases of remodeling needed to reopen the facility, which will house more than 500 beds upon completion.
Good news for our area, Mars Petcare announced last week that it is investing $50 million to expand its operations in Arkansas with 42 new position at its pet food plant in Fort Smith.
The Governor signed the bills that were passed during the special session Also, during the special session the legislature created a task force to work on long-term structural changes, to prevent the need to bail out the educational system insurance program again. There was a 12 member panel formed which consists of 8 legislators who where appointed last week along with the chairman of the House and Senate Insurance and Commerce committees, Sen. Jason Rapert and Rep Tommy Wren, the chairmen of the house education committee, Rep James McLean and Sen. Jim Hendren . The panel is to study the health insurance system, submit its findings and make recommendations for changes by June 30 in time for consideration in the 2015 regular session. The Legislature will meet in January 2014, but only in a fiscal session. The next regular session will be January 2015 after the general elections in November 2014.