Nearly half of the inmates released from the state's prison system four years ago were re-incarcerated by the end of 2014 -- a 5 percentage-point increase over the previous year, according to a report released Monday by the state Department of Correction.
Corrections officials said they expect that number of ex-convicts returning to get higher by this time next year.
The report was created by the state Department of Correction's Research and Planning Division and tracks people released from prison in 2011.
Of the 6,859 inmates released in 2011, 3,308 -- or 48.2 percent -- were sent back to prison within three years. The report also shows that 6.4 percent, or 440 inmates, were re-incarcerated within six months of their release and that 17.5 percent, or 1,200, were returned within one year.
Of the 6,198 prisoners paroled or discharged in 2010, 43.2 percent, or 2,680, were re-incarcerated within three years.
The Arkansas recidivism rate is the highest since 2002, when 49.4 percent -- or 2,969 of 6,015 people were sent back to prison within three years.
The average three-year recidivism rate over the past decade stands at 43.95 percent -- 26,941 of 61,286 people were re-incarcerated within three years of release.
"It will probably go up next year," Sheila Sharp, Arkansas Community Correction director, told the Arkansas Board of Corrections on Monday.
Parole policies changed drastically in 2013 after a series of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette articles shed light on the state's parole system through the case of an eight-time parole absconder, Darrell Dennis, who was convicted this May of kidnapping and killing a teenager in Little Rock.
The number of Arkansans on parole increased to 24,523 in 2013, thousands more than the 14,770 on parole in 2004, according to statistics from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
"That's the year everything went bonkers," said Dina Tyler, a deputy director of the state Department of Community Correction, which deals with parolees. "Revocations went through the roof. We won't start seeing those inmates reflected in the recidivism rates until next year."
This year -- to reduce the swollen inmate population -- state leaders have enacted or are in the process of instituting numerous parole and probation changes that may mean earlier releases or fewer incarcerations for some kinds of offenders.
The Arkansas Parole Board will release about 144 inmates this week after reviewing their cases in light of a new system approved by the Board of Corrections in late August to reduce the number of jailed parole violators. By making it retroactive, the Parole Board paved the way for a possible release about 400 inmates in the coming weeks.
The new program establishes a "weighted" sanction system under the Community Correction Department's "Offender Violation Guide."
The new system assigns a certain number of points based on the severity of a new offense by a parole violator, and violations older than 12 months drop from the accumulated points. Previously, all "technical violations" were weighted the same, regardless of the severity, and the offender was re-incarcerated.
Of the nearly 1,500 parole violators in custody, more than 400 are locked up for technical violations instead of new illegal activity. Such violations can include skipping a meeting with a parole officer, failing a drug test or associating with people the offender was ordered to avoid.
Now parole officers will submit a violation report to the Parole Board only after an offender's combined violations reach 40 points using the new weighted system.
The Parole Board has also created a system where inmates can reduce their usual six-month jail time for parole violations to 90 days by signing a waiver and meeting set standards of conduct during the three months.
The most recent recidivism study released Monday shows that of the 6,859 inmates released in 2011, 17.7 percent, or 1,215, violated their parole because of a technical infraction.
The report also showed that:
• Male inmates returned to prison more often than female prisoners. According to the report, of the 6,099 men released in 2011, 49.9 percent, or 3,043, were sent back to prison within three years. Of the 760 female inmates released in the same time period, 34.9 percent, or 265, women were re-incarcerated within three years.
• On average, the inmates released in 2011 who would become recidivists spent 17 months in the community before returning to prison.
• Of the 2,439 inmates who had been locked up for violent offenses, 52 percent, or 1,258, were back in prison within three years. In contrast, 2,050, or 46 percent, of the 4,420 inmates who had committed nonviolent offenses returned within three years.
• Of the 2,656 black inmates released in 2011, 49.4 percent, or 1,311, were re-incarcerated within three years -- only slightly higher than the recidivism rate for white inmates. The report shows that 48.6 percent, or 1,906, of 3,924 white inmates were re-incarcerated during the tracking period.
Corrections Board Chairman Benny Magness said he was surprised at the differences in recidivism rates found in individual counties.
"I would really like to figure out why some counties are so much higher than the others," Magness said.
The report shows that those inmates who returned to prison within three years were typically convicted in less-populated, rural areas. However, those counties also have lower numbers of inmates released, Correction Department Director Wendy Kelley said.
"Some numbers are so low that the percentages are going to be higher," Kelley said.
Izard County, for example, had the highest recidivism rate of all 75 counties. Of the 17 inmates convicted in Izard County who were released from prison in 2011, 11 -- or 64.7 percent -- were back in prison within three years.
None of the 10 inmates from Newton County who were released in 2011 have been re-incarcerated.
By comparison, of the 1,010 inmates convicted in Pulaski County and released in 2011, 527, or 52.2 percent, were returned to prison within three years.
Corrections Board member Dubs Byers said that reducing recidivism rates is something about which he is very passionate. A more concerted effort to prepare the inmates for the world outside the prison walls is needed, he added.
"We need some kind of system that when they hit the streets, they're prepared," Byers said. "We have to change the culture and help him while he's here; prepare him to get out and stay out. This is one of the best ways to reduce the prison population."
State Desk on 09/29/2015
Print Headline: 48.2% released in '11 went back to prison