Oct 27, 2022 - News

Mistake rolls back parole eligibility for some Arkansas inmates

Illustration of the "No" symbol merged with jail cell bars.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Nearly 300 inmates recently learned they will have to serve their entire sentence with no parole, despite what they were told at the time of their plea agreements, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Driving the news: The Arkansas Department of Corrections admitted to a legislative committee on Monday that it had misinterpreted one element of parole eligibility law for seven years.

What's happening: More than 100 inmates were released on parole early as a result of the mistake, and two others were released, then re-incarcerated within days.

  • The 290 inmates will serve an average of another 9.5 years.
  • One man told the Democrat-Gazette that his stepson will now have to serve 19 more years than he expected.

Why it matters: Arkansas prisons are frequently overcrowded and understaffed, impacting the health and wellbeing of inmates and the safety of prison employees. On any given day, the Department of Corrections is responsible for more than 17,000 inmates and 4,500 staff.

  • Yes, and: The misinterpretation, which may have led to some inmates agreeing to plea bargains, undermines confidence in defense lawyers and the judicial system.

Context: The Department of Corrections had not been considering residential burglary as a violent felony offense when calculating sentences.

  • But a May 2021 opinion from the attorney general classifies it as violent and says an offender convicted of residential burglary┬ábefore April 2015 and who then committed another offense after is not eligible for parole.

The intrigue: Solomon Graves, secretary of the DOC, told the committee Monday that the department realized it had an issue as early as 2016, but that concerns raised by communities where the parolees live finally led it to seek an opinion from the attorney general.

Of note: Graves said the 101 parolees released have inherent liberty, which prevented the department from returning them to custody. Of those, 11 have violated parole and are now back in prison.

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