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As Jail Populations Grow, Lawmaker Eyes Plan to Make Room

Inmate populations are exploding at county jails across the state as a result of new stricter rules for parolees.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Inmate populations are exploding at county jails across the state as a result of new stricter rules for parolees.
   
At least one state lawmaker says it's time to find more room.

The space is needed because new rules are resulting in the jailing of former prisoners who violate their parole by doing things like not checking in with their parole officer or getting arrested.
   
Republican State Senator David Sanders has been a long-time critic of the state's corrections system.

He says the rise in inmate population shows the new guidelines implemented by the Department of Community Correction are working.

"As a result of [DCC] finally getting their policies right, we're getting those folks off the street," Sanders said, referring to ex-convicts who violate terms of their parole after being released from prison early.
   
The crackdown is swelling inmate populations at jails the one in Pulaski County where 150 parolees are being held after being accused or convicted of committing violations.
   
Across the state, the number of county jail inmates in that category has tripled since the new policies were implemented. 
   
"We hope that at some point that growth slows down," said Arkansas Board of Corrections chairman Benny Magness.

He hopes word about the crackdown will get out -- resulting in less violations.

But, he says, if jail populations continue to grow at current rates, there will soon be a problem.

"We need to look at repurposing existing DCC facilities to deal with the problem of parole violators," Sanders said. 

Sanders is eyeing bed space at DCC facilities across the state.  He believes the interest of public safety may be better served using them to house parole violators.

"We have to have a place to lock them up," Sanders said.

Senator Sanders also wants to look at the DCC's technical violator center in Malvern. 
   
He has been very critical of that program and says the 300 beds there are another place where parole violators could be sent to serve out their prison sentences.

Magness defended the technical violator program saying that it's needed as an alternative to prison for parolees who commit minor violations.

"The technical violator program is a very, very important program," he said.

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