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Why has overcrowding been an issue in Arkansas jails?

Overcrowding has hit many of the jails across the state of Arkansas, and officials are working closely to fix the problem— however, the fix may not be an easy one.

LONOKE COUNTY, Ark. — Recently, the Lonoke County Detention Center has been filling up, and Sheriff John Staley has seen the overcrowding happening firsthand. 

"If those weren't here, we'd be under capacity and doing well," he said. "It's like playing chess, you've got to move one off the board to put another one on, you know. A shell game, you're always trying to move somebody."

At the jail where he works, they have space for about 150 inmates, though lately, they've been housing well above that. 

"Currently, today, we're at 158," Staley explained. "We have 33 waiting to go to the Arkansas Department of Corrections."

The Lonoke County Detention Center has been over capacity, and they aren't the only ones. 

Sheriff Staley is also on the Executive Board of the Arkansas Sheriffs Association and he explained that they've spoken to all 75 sheriffs. 

"Every county that has a jail has the same issues as each other," he added.

There are a lot of reasons as to why that has been the case, but to make a hypothesis on why it has been happening, Staley will point you towards the data.

They, along with other jails across the state, have had to hold inmates that are awaiting a transfer to Arkansas Department of Corrections prisons, though the biggest issue has been that the ADC doesn't have the space for them either.

"Without that extra space, it's not even extra space, without them taking their inmates, it hinders the operations of the county," Staley said.

The situation has gotten to the point where inmates have had to be released early.

In a statement, the Department of Corrections said, "Whenever the prison population exceeds 98% of capacity for 30 consecutive days, the Board of Corrections can declare an emergency and move up the parole eligibility date."

That statement went on to state, "Offenders cannot be released without being approved by the Parole Board. The Board of Corrections approved a list of 369 on Friday."

Staley commented that most, if not all, of the offenders being released, are nonviolent and already close to their release date. 

Staley also added that the early release of the offenders is a temporary fix to a bigger problem, and fixing the issue starts with addressing the problem at the source.

"We need a prison, however, to do this, we need to have our elected leaders see it," he said. "The burden shouldn't be on the local communities when the state is responsible for that."

   

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