From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The problem of overcrowding in state prisons is getting worse, and the consequences are being felt by county sheriffs and local law enforcement agencies.
A group of sheriffs presented their case at a recent meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
They urged state lawmakers to increase the reimbursement rate that the state pays to county jails for housing inmates, when there isn’t enough room for them at a state prison unit.
More alarmingly, they urged the state to build another maximum security unit for violent and dangerous offenders.
Prison overcrowding has long been a problem, not only in Arkansas but in almost every other state.
When state units are filled to capacity, county jails get the overflow. Typically, when someone is arrested they are kept in the local jail until their trial, or until they make bail.
If they are convicted, they are supposed to be sent immediately to a state prison unit to serve out their sentence.
However, if the state prison unit is full and not accepting new inmates, the convicted offenders stay at the local jail until space becomes available.
The state pays counties $32 per day per inmate. For the current fiscal year, the state has appropriated about $20 million to reimburse counties. That’s enough to adequately reimburse county jails if they hold an average of 1,800 inmates every day.
County sheriffs are in charge of county jails, and they’re telling the legislature that the problem is two-fold.
The first problem is financial, because $32 a day is not enough to cover the expenses of holding an inmate. According to a recent audit, the actual cost is about $63 a day.
The other problem is that some county jails are filling up with dangerous inmates, who ought to be housed in a secure state facility.
When dangerous inmates are held in county jails, they pose a danger to staff and other prisoners who are locked up for relatively minor offenses like driving while intoxicated, shoplifting and public drunkenness.
Sheriffs told the Judiciary Committee that violent offenders should be transported to maximum security state prisons, in order to free up space in county jails for less serious offenders.
The sheriffs also spoke in favor of hiring more parole officers, to more closely supervise inmates who get an early release from prison.
Also, they want the state to build regional lock-ups to hold parole violators for short periods of time.
It takes money to build more prison space and to pay security officers. County sheriffs want the legislature to address the problem during the fiscal session that begins Monday.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.