Arkansas' broken state prison system part 1

The Pulaski County Jail finally opened its doors on Monday, after being closed since late April. State prison overcrowding has trickled down to the county level affecting jails.

Around 2,600 inmates are currently being held in county jails across the state awaiting transfers to state prisons.

Officials blame the state for the lack of funding. This has been an issue for decades and the problem is only getting worse.

The Pulaski County Jail has been functioning over capacity for months now, which lead them to close recently. However, authorities say as long as the prison system continues to run without proper funding, Arkansas' system will continue to be broken.

"Until the state gets their prison system fixed, or gets their parole system fixed, all of the county jails throughout this state are going to be impacted," said Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay.

It was April 29th when Sheriff Holladay was forced to close the Pulaski County Jail. On that day 1,300 inmates occupied the jail while its capacity is 1,210.

"There are over 2,600 state inmates backlogged into county jails in the state of Arkansas today, and so that creates a burden for all of the county jails," added Holladay.

Out of those 2,600 more than 500 state inmates are housed in Pulaski County, the biggest county jail in the state. For every state inmate it costs the county around $48/day to house them, but they only receive $28/day from the state, the math is clear they're losing money.

"Those 500 inmates who should be in the state prison system are taking up bed spaces that would otherwise be used to hold some of these individuals that the district courts would like to have locked up," said Holladay.

Since the jail closed, district judges like Vic Fleming have had to find alternatives to sending multiple time offenders to jail, instead sentencing them to community service. In 2013, about 2,000 offenders were sentenced to community service; however, 980 warrants were issued for failure to appear for community services.

For more than a year now, a continuous cycle has developed.

"A warrant has been issued for their arrest, and there are terms and conditions that are part of the warrant," said Pulaski County District Judge, Vic Fleming.

However, without enough bed space in jail, some offenders who for example have been caught more than 10 times driving without a license and continue to skip community service are walking away without punishment, despite a warrant for their arrest.

"Instead the person is released with an appearance agreement to come back to court, but we do want that person to be in jail until the next day so that the court can decide if they do need to stay in jail they can just stay there," said Fleming.

The cycle goes like this, you fail to appear in court and a warrant is issued. Eventually, authorities catch up with the offender and arrest them. While they do the initial booking process, instead of then being brought into a cell, they're released on an appearance agreement a simple paper they sign promising to appear in court. Then, the cycle starts all over again because according to Judge Fleming, half of the scheduled appearance agreements never show in court.

"Driving on a suspended license 10th, 12th, 15th offense, DWI 2nd or 3rd offense, fleeing from the police that kind of thing, they don't show up for court and they get a warrant out for their arrest," said Fleming. "And they have multiple warrants for their arrest and instead of being held in jail until we can see them they are released with a new agreement to come to court."

It costs tax-payers $25 million a year to run the Pulaski County Jail, just a little more than$2 million comes from surrounding cities, while the county picks up the rest of the tab.

To run 19 state prisons, it costs tax-payers throughout the state around $316 million in general revenue with an overall budget of about $350 million. Despite millions being pumped into the prison system, they say it's still not enough.

"We need more money for additional beds and it's a challenge that all state agencies are facing, we're all feeling budget crunches so we are looking at all and any measure to try to figure out how to make this work," said Arkansas Department of Corrections Spokesperson, Shea Wilson.Part 2 will air on Friday during Nightside.