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The familiar dilemma: Prison population vs. the population at large

Posted: January 18, 2014 - 5:14pm

Gov. Mike Beebe’s draft budget would increase the Arkansas Department of Correction’s budget by about $12.4 million and the Department of Community Correction’s by about $7 million.

This includes about $7 million that will go to counties, including Faulkner, where county jails are used to hold “overflow” state prison inmates.

“There’s a pent-up demand for state prison beds,” Rep. Steve Magie (D-Conway) said. “Those people are now being housed in our local city and county jails, and our jails are being reimbursed about $28 a day for each individual, which is woefully inadequate and our counties are taking a pretty good hit on trying to take care of those people.”

Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) and Reps. Douglas House (R-North Little Rock), David Meeks (R-Conway) and Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) all said they agreed with more funding to reimburse county jails.

Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock said that the proposed increase in compensation for holding ADC inmates “would help us out a whole lot.” Faulkner County is also being compensated for holding 30 inmates sent from the Pulaski County jail because of overcrowding there.

Gov. Beebe’s budget also includes $5 million in “rainy day funds” to expand existing ADC infrastructure to house another 300 inmates.

There’s also more need for prison “beds” in 2014 because of new parole requirements implemented last summer partly in response to a widely publicized Little Rock murder allegedly committed by multiple-felon parolee Darrell Dennis.

David Meeks said that he would support a prison expansion “because we definitely want to make sure public safety is a priority.”

Stephen Meeks agreed. “I have no problems with that,” he said. “We still have ongoing issues with bed space, so [ADC] is trying to get some money together, but they haven’t had the money they’ve needed to have the staff to make use of those beds, so there’s been a push for that, too, and one of the other issues that’s being looked at is that there’s a lot of the correctional officers that are doing a lot of [uncompensated work] time and I think the department’s slowly catching up on that.”

According to Douglas House, an attorney, Arkansas “really needs to expand our prison beds by about 300 a year, and that’s been neglected.”

“I think the distinction between ADC and [the Arkansas Department of Community Correction] is fairly artificial,” House said. “The most important thing is we have these people off the street that are dangerous, because of course the safety to the public is the primary concern. We haven’t done a good job of anticipating our needs. Arkansas is a state of three million people, and we know that a percentage of that is going to be going through the prison system.”

Magie also said that increasing jail space is not the final or best answer to the jail crowding problem.

“The Governor is asking for appropriations for more beds, and there’s the mentality of ‘just lock ‘em up and forget about ‘em,’ but the truth is that we’re locking them up and we’re paying for them and we can’t just continue to do that,” Magie said.

Another area where Magie said the state needs to put more resource is in offender mental health and substance abuse treatment and parole and probation supervision.

“Sure, with the worst offenders, violent offenders, where we’re scared of them and what they’re going to do, lock them in and don’t let them out,” he said. “But when you look at the people that we send to prison, they tend to repeat. There’s between 40 and 50 percent recidivism, and 51 percent of the people that have been incarcerated were arrested for another crime. A lot of folks that we’re paying for them to sit in prison are folks that, with the right programs and the right incentives and the right treatments, they wouldn’t be in prison.”

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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Bad boy
993
Points
Bad boy 01/20/14 - 08:50 am
6
2
Non violent.

I say never waste a bed at a unit on any non violent offender. Put there tail to work right out in the public eye so the sane part of humanity can see them humbled and embarrassed. If they don't have a job let them do community service every work day till they do. There are lots of ways we could work with non violent and save those beds for the violent. It would take many out of beds that are needed for the violent, save many tax dollars, and provide community service at a lot lower cost than housing, feeding, and providing medical.

lachowsj
6066
Points
lachowsj 01/20/14 - 11:01 am
4
2
Well put

Well put, Bad boy. Unfortunately, every time some politician talks seriously about reducing the need for prison beds by putting money into a more rigorous parole system and prevention programs, they are faced at the next election with the charge of being soft on crime. Michael Dukakis was beaten in 1988 by the Willie Horton ads showing a black man in prison garb going through a revolving door. Every time there is a re-offense by someone like Darrell Dennis, the natural reaction is to ask for longer prison sentences and stricter parole eligibility guidelines. That's too bad. Because a beefed up parole system that includes training, work requirements and incentives and drug and alcohol treatment is much less costly and much more effective in the long run.

Bad boy
993
Points
Bad boy 01/20/14 - 11:19 am
3
2
Violent

See what I was talking was non violent. No place in prison for them. Most of them are just hurting themselves. Or the willing. People like dennis are the ones that should never see daylight. Not even after his first killing. The programs I'm thinking of would allow people like him to have a life time home. People are going to have to make the choice on who they want on the street or pay higher taxes to put in more beds.

mikeng1994
0
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mikeng1994 01/21/14 - 09:25 am
4
2
But there should not be much

But there should not be much cost to housing a prisoner if done correctly and done as a punishment. How much can 3 bowls of rice and some water actually cost? Throw in some of meat that stores would not sell for protein a few days a week and they got 3 hot meals. They do not need juice and eggs or biscuits and gravy.

If it cost, lets say 50 dollars to maintain a prison cell, the if that cell has 2 inmates that 25 bucks per inmate. Now, put 8 in there instead. Now we have miserable inmates at only around 6 bucks per person. It really is that easy to fix the problem.

Diogenes
11150
Points
Diogenes 01/21/14 - 10:17 am
4
1
I agree

They only need 100 "bedding spaces" in order to "hot bunk" 300 inmates.

faulknerwatchdog
582
Points
faulknerwatchdog 01/20/14 - 06:23 pm
3
4
Huh?

"Arkansas “really needs to expand our prison beds by about 300 a year.'"

Really? Do we really lock up 300 more inmates than we release each year? I don't believe prison is the answer to petty crime and minor drug offenses. In fact, that goes for any non-violent crime. Like others have said, put 'em to work, make them pay their so-called debt to society by working it off instead of lounging on the taxpayers' dime.

ucantbserious
30573
Points
ucantbserious 01/21/14 - 10:56 am
2
0
Hmm

If the total population increases then chances are that the prison population may increase as well. If the prison system is not growing then it will quickly run out of space.

mikeng1994
0
Points
mikeng1994 01/21/14 - 08:46 am
2
4
The problem....

is that far to many think as you 3 do. All crime greater than a few traffic violations should include some prison time. Why do you think we have so much "petty crime"? Its because the offender knows before he does it, he does not have to be held accountable for the action.

Who really cares of there is over crowding and the prisoners are not comfortable? If you do, then I think you are only condoning their crimes. No criminal in this country is really afraid to go to prison. why should they? its 3 hots and a bed and you even get paid for doing some job there. WTF????

Prison should be a miserable as we can possibly make it. If you happen to die in prison while doing 10 years for drug possession, then that's just the way it goes.

You people have got to stop coddling offenders and hold them fully accountable for their action, if they think prison is to rough then great, we are succeeding. When I was in the Navy we had 450 people on a ship that was 400 feet long and 40 feet wide if that. None of us were prisoners, and we did just fine. I could care less if they pack 8 people in a 15 x 15 feet cell.

Prison is supposed to hell and crime is meant to be punished regardless if you think the law is stupid or petty. Lets start making it hell.

faulknerwatchdog
582
Points
faulknerwatchdog 01/22/14 - 06:59 am
2
0
I disagree

While I agree on your point about making prison more "uncomfortable," I wholeheartedly disagree with locking up *more* people. We have become a nation of captives; like lachowsj pointed out, we have more prisoners per capita than ANY nation on Earth. Land of the free, huh?

Don't mistake me for one being soft on crime. You wouldn't know this, but I have a history in corrections, on the right side of the bars. I have seen firsthand the complete lack of fear of going to prison. Most repeat offenders look forward to prison, because the only thing they don't get inside is a woman, and they have ways to compensate for that too. I'm all for making prison "hell;" perhaps that would decrease the appeal of crime, especially for repeat offenders.

What I am NOT in favor of is allocating more and more taxpayer dollars to feeding, clothing, providing medical care and cable television, and pampering those individuals the State deems unworthy of freedom. If the State insists in imprisoning the petty thief, the marijuana dealer/user, or the guy who doesn't pay his traffic fines, I would rather see them be put to work to pay off their debt, and then released. Make them pick up trash, or do some other menial job at minimum wage, but put that money towards their fine. Then release them. Don't make us take care of them for free.

Diogenes
11150
Points
Diogenes 01/22/14 - 07:45 am
0
0
It's Lachowsky

Johan and Carolina emigrated along with five sons, John, Edward, Albert, Paul and Fredrick, in 1876 from Elbring near the Russian border. (pages 377 & 378 of Faulkner Country Its Land and People).

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