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Parole Office Understaffing Limits Early Release for Inmates

A family argues their loved one should be paroled in his home county and made eligible for early release.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- A review of recent problems in the state's parole system is keeping some inmates behind bars weeks after they would be eligible for early release.

The family of a man who would have been released Tuesday was relying on the Emergency Powers Act, which allows some eligible inmates to go home up to 90 days early to help with overcrowding, for their loved one's release.

In late August, the board of corrections decided the parole offices in Pulaski and Lonoke counties are understaffed and unprepared, leaving hundreds of inmates unable to go home.

Inmate Robert Ellis called from prison in Pine Bluff Tuesday evening, the day his family thought he would be released early.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you that," Shawna Cook says during a phone conversation with her fiancé.

"I'm doing what I can to try to fix it," she says, explaining why he won't be released early from prison.

"What went through my mind was, 'Oh my God, another mistake,'" his mother, Brenda Gilbert said.

This is the second time Ellis' plans in the correctional system have taken a sudden turn. In March, during a stint in the Saline County jail, Ellis walked out when jailers called another person's name.

Lt. Scott Courtney showed FOX 16 how Ellis signed his own name on another inmate's release document and was freed without incident hours before jailers realized they'd let the wrong man go.

His family blamed the jail for the error.

"It's mistake after mistake, after mistake, and the only person paying for it is him," says the family.

He turned himself in, but the incident revoked Ellis' probation and tacked on a fleeing charge.

Preparing to bring him home six months later, his family learned even though they live in Saline county, Ellis is being paroled to Pulaski county, where the parole office is unable to take new parolees.

"It's not the prisoners' fault that Pulaski County isn't doing what they need to do for people to come home," Cook says.

Now, instead of planning their wedding together, in person, Cook continues waiting by the phone, hoping they catch a break and get a chance to start over together, sooner than later.

Ellis' mother is hoping to get his parole assignment switched to Saline County. Gilbert says two other people have paroled out using her address which is in fact in Saline county.

The change would allow him to go home early.
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