Lawmaker question state's parole system

Department of Community Correction directors

(KATV) Little Rock - Every year nearly 60,000 inmates in Arkansas are paroled or put on probation. Keeping up with them once they're released has proven to be an uphill challenge.

During the House and Senate judiciary committee meeting, talks of overhauling the state's sentencing system took center stage. Act 570 was introduced three years ago as a way to ease overcrowding in jails. But some lawmakers say it has given the impression the state is soft on crime and most are repeat offenders that get back on the street and commit more crimes.

Lawmakers met face to face with Department of Community Correction heads about challenges in the system.

Senator Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot says, "Somehow we have to look at that system and say that doesn't work."

In May, 18 year old Forrest Abrams was abducted at gunpoint in Little Rock and killed. The suspect, Darrell Dennis is a felon. Days before the murder he was arrested for violating parole, but released.

June 17: Little RockMayor asks why accused murderer was allowed out on parole

City of Little Rock Mayor, Mark Stodola tells Channel Seven, "There are two kinds of people that need to be locked up. It is the violent criminal and the career burglar and thieves."

Mark Stodola told lawmakers that 76% of burglary offenders in the city have criminal records and with today's technology, they need to be monitored, once released. A former prosecuting attorney and public defender, he says the criminal justice system is complex. "There needs to be a whole lot more communication between the parole board and the jails and law enforcement."

Mayor Stodola adds, "You talk about a level of frustration. When officers go out here and arrest somebody, they know they arrested them the night before and they're already on parole and not back in confinement. It is a very very frustrating and depressing situation."

Senator Eddie Joe Williams says funding should not be an excuse to let an inmate out of prison. "The consequence of that is what is happening today; I am interested in finding some solutions, and being part of the solutions not part of the problem."

Lawmakers also expressed inmates need to be assessed and get help with resources before they're released. Senator Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff says that is what the words 'correctional facility' should mean.

Many of these ideas are expect to be addressed during the fiscal session in January.

The Department of Corrections has already made some changes. For example, a parolee can't be released if being held on charges while awaiting a revocation hearing.