The number of state prison inmates who are released on parole is steadily going up while the number who are discharged after serving out their entire sentence is going down, according to a report compiled by prison officials for the state Board of Correction.
In the decade from 1999 to 2008, the number of Arkansas inmates released on parole went up from 4,677 to 6,160. Over the same ten-year period the number of inmates discharged after serving their maximum sentence went down from 643 in 1999 to 145 in 2008.
The report is a recidivism study, which means it is an analysis of the percentage of inmates who are released and then break the law and return to prison.
Correction officials reported that from 1999 to 2008, the three-year recidivism rate went down from 54.6 percent to 45.6 percent. In 1999 the Correction Department released 4,677 inmates on parole and within three years 54.6 percent of them were back in prison. In 2008 the department released 6,160 inmates on parole and within three years 45.6 percent of them were back in prison.
The recidivism rate is quite a bit lower for prisoners who are discharged after serving out their full sentences. The three-year rate for those discharged in 1999 was 28.6 percent. The rate for those discharged in 2008 was 15.9 percent. One factor may be age. The survey found that middle-aged and older offenders, after being released, are less likely to end up back in prison.
Correction officials are implementing Act 570 of 2011 and paying close attention to its effect on the inmate population. The 167-page act changes sentencing laws and puts more emphasis on parole, in part because inmates released on parole are under supervision when they return to the free world and inmates discharged after serving out a complete sentence are not supervised.
Although the overall trends over a ten-year period have been fairly consistent, there have been a few fluctuations in the percentages from year to year that don’t seem to follow the pattern. Prison officials attribute those aberrations to differences in the kinds of inmates released within a certain period.
During one year many inmates who become eligible for parole may change their behavior because they are determined to stay out of trouble, but in another year there may be fewer who are willing to make those changes.
Correction officials are keenly aware of how policy changes affect recidivism rates. For instance, they attribute a jump in the rate from 2007 to 2008 in large part to a policy change — a new limit on the number of times a parole violator could be housed in the Omega Technical Violator Center near Malvern.
They are housed in the Omega center for 60 days if they violate the terms of their parole, such as failing to report to a parole officer or failing a drug test. After three violations in one year, a hearing officer can place them back in prison and they are counted in recidivism surveys.
Also in 2011 the legislature added 49 additional parole officers to the Department of Community Correction, which has a staff of 1,182 who supervised an active caseload of 36,705 offenders last year. Those offenders were on probation or parole, or going through drug courts or boot camp.
The department housed 1,230 offenders in residential facilities last year. They had been sentenced mostly for drug crimes, theft of property or burglary.