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Arkansas officials reallocate $4.3M to convert former Independence County juvenile facility into parole center

$4.3M planned for establishment of parole, probation center by Stephen Simpson | March 21, 2022 at 2:59 a.m.

The Arkansas Department of Corrections is reallocating more than $4 million as part of its effort to turn a vacant juvenile detention facility in Independence County into a lower-level parole and probation center.

The state Board of Corrections on Thursday approved a request from Lamont Wimbley, chief fiscal officer for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, to reallocate $4,352,470 from the Division of Correction Inmate Care and Custody Fund to the Division of Community Correction Fund Account.

Wimbley said the transfer will allow the Division of Community Correction to construct, renovate and equip new beds for the recently acquired White River Juvenile Detention facility in Batesville.

The funds are coming from a reserve that was previously dedicated to a potential regional jail in Bradley County.

Solomon Graves, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, said the reallocation is the first step of the process.

"We are hoping to be able to get [the Department of Finance and Administration] working with us to roll this $4.3 million over, but for that to be a possibility we had to get the money moved out of the Department of Corrections to the Division of Corrections," he said.

Graves said the $4.3 million will not cover the entire project.

"If we can get this money rolled over by DFA, this will cover probably 80% of the project," he said. "But we are going to have to work on funding to shore up the rest of that project."

Graves told the Board of Corrections that the purchase is expected to be finalized in about the next 55 days.

The Board of Corrections in July approved a request from Graves to acquire the vacant juvenile detention facility.

The Division of Community Correction plans to use the facility to expand its Supervision Sanction Program for parolees and probationers. The residential program aims to divert nonviolent offenders who violate "technical" terms of their parole or probation -- such as failing a drug test, missing a court date or failing to check in with a parole officer -- away from prisons and jails.

The program is part of the state's recent efforts to reduce recidivism and prison crowding, problems exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. In its current state, Graves said, the facility at 105 County Yard Road in Batesville can house up to 130 offenders, but that number can increase to 150 with renovations.

It will be the state's second supervision sanction center. The other is the 300-bed Omega Supervision Sanction Center in Malvern.

The Batesville facility will offer offenders structure, supervision, drug and alcohol education, career technical education, employment counseling, socialization and life-skills programs, as well as other evidence-based services. It also will pursue national accreditation by the American Correctional Association in addition to state licensure as a substance abuse treatment facility.

Felons and those convicted of violent misdemeanors are not eligible for the program.

Delinquent parolees and probationers progress through the program in phases. The period of confinement can be reduced for good behavior and early completion of the phases, but it can't be reduced by more than 50% of the time ordered to be served, according to state regulations.

The White River Regional Juvenile Detention Center, a youth lockup, stopped incarcerating children in 2019.

In 2017, two former White River Regional supervisors confessed in federal court to assaulting and needlessly punishing detained youths and conspiring with other workers to cover up their abuses by falsifying use-of-force documents.

A 2018 facility report showed that serious incidents involving youths at the Batesville facility -- including assaults, verbal threats and escape attempts -- had decreased significantly. In 2012, the county reported 1,283 serious incidents, but it documented only 73 serious incidents in 2018.

Print Headline: Prison-agency funds shifted

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