Convicted felons across Arkansas are being released back into the public because state and county jails are full, according to authorities.
In Sebastian County, Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck says between 20 and 40 inmates are released from the detention center daily due to overcrowding problems. Of the more than 400 inmates at the jail, nearly 200 of them are waiting to be transferred to the Arkansas Department of Correction, but the state jail is also full.
"Over 50 percent of the population in the Sebastian County jail right now are state inmates that the state of Arkansas is responsible for," said Hollenbeck. "The tough choices that I have to make are 'Who are the bad guys that I'm going to have to let out?'"
The inmates are being released through bond or community work programs to make room for more violent offenders, Hollenbeck said. Some of the released prisoners could be facing felony charges, but the sheriff said they'll begin by releasing non-violent offenders before releasing those inmates who have been convicted of more serious crimes.
According to Hollenbeck, overcrowding became a problem when the parole system was overhauled last year after a Pulaski County man who was out on bond was arrested on suspicion of murdering a Fayetteville teen. Since July 2013, the number of state inmates waiting in county jails has increased from 485 to 2,889.
County jails across the state are understaffed and overworked, according to Hollenbeck.
The Crawford County Detention Center has had problems with overcrowding and was placed on probation by the state as a result. Crawford County leaders are working to pass a sales tax in May to help get a new jail built.
Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune said the Crawford County Detention Center currently is housing approximately 80 inmates. McCune said 28 inmates sentenced to the state Department of Correction are currently out on release bonds until the state facility has more bed space.
Sebastian County took in some inmates from Crawford County to help alleviate some of the crowding, but now their detention center is full too, Hollenbeck said. The sheriff believes the state needs more prisons and parole officers and to re-evaluate parole operations.
"If you're going to put one in, we have to take one out," he said.
This week legislators approved spending more money on state prisons and to reimburse the county jails.