Friday, June 17, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – State prisons have taken steps to free up space and relieve the backlog of inmates in county jails.

About 100 beds have become available at the Omega Technical Violator unit in Malvern because the Community Correction Department is accelerating the use of supervision, community service and drug testing. The unit is for inmates who have violated parole but not committed a new crime. For example, they may have failed to report to a parole officer or missed a court date.

Instead of returning to prison to serve out the remainder of their sentence they spend 90 days in the technical offender unit, where they get help with drug addiction and counseling on how to avoid a criminal lifestyle.

Act 570 of 2011, the major sentencing reform law passed by the legislature earlier this year, authorizes the alternate types of supervision that have freed up the 100 additional prison beds at the Omega Unit.

In related news, the Board of Correction has approved spending about $4.5 million on expansions to create space for an additional 164 inmates. Most of the money will be spent to add 100 beds to the North Central Unit at Calico Rock.

The remainder will be spent to upgrade an old facility in Little Rock that houses 64 inmates who work on the grounds of the state Capitol, the Governor's Mansion and the headquarters of the State Police. For the past couple of years those inmates were locked up in the Wrightsville Unit, which is near Little Rock in southern Pulaski County.

When more space becomes available in state prison units it relieves the backlog of prisoners still in county jails. When offenders are arrested they stay in a county jail until their trial, unless they post bail. If convicted and sentenced to a prison term they are transferred to a state prison unit. However, when state prisons are filled to capacity they wait in county jails until the state can take them.

This poses hardships for police officers because local jails sometimes house so many inmates awaiting transfer to a state prison that there is not enough room for jailing people arrested on relatively minor offenses.

Arkansas State prisons hold more than 16,000 inmates and as of last week about 1,200 were still in county jails awaiting transfer to a state prison unit.

Act 570 sets up a variety of alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders to make sure there is secure prison space for dangerous offenders and habitual criminals.

Cattle Testing

The Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission has adopted an emergency rule that requires all bulls to be tested for trichomoniasis when they change ownership. It's a disease that bulls transfer to cows. It causes infertility and the loss of calves and has been spreading into western Arkansas from western states.

The rule will be in effect for 120 days unless the commission votes to extend it. Infections have been reported in 20 herds in Arkansas. Bulls that test positive must go to slaughter within two weeks.

Neighboring states and western states have strengthened their testing procedures in order to eradicate trichomoniasis. The only laboratory in Arkansas that can certify test results is the one operated by the Livestock and Poultry Commission.

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