Sheriff Explains New Law Could Help Jail Overcrowding

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

WASHINGTON COUNTY (KFSM)-- Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson recently signed into law Act 423 and one Northwest Arkansas Sheriff explained it could help with the state's overcrowding jail problem.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder was a member of the committee that worked on the bill that would later become this new act.

He said the two big topics it touches on include probation and mental health.

Helder says probation officers often do not get much time to help offenders on probation because of technical violations.

The new act will allow those on probation a specific number of strikes as long as they do not commit a violent crime.

Helder said this law will help provide a balance needed.

"I think that we've just got to look at a way to work out a partnership that the people who really need to go to prison, the people that we're afraid of need to have bed space in prisons," said Helder. "Not so much for the people that we're mad at or keep commuting these nuisance crimes."

Helder explained his department and the University of Arkansas conducted a study in 2007 that determined about 25 percent of the Washington County inmates had a mental illness.

Since then, he said that number would have only gone up.

Helder said Act 423 will also help officers get the training they need when dealing with an inmate with a mental illness.

"You know basically identifying people who are in an acute state when it comes to mental health and then deescalate that behavior and then trying to determine a better outcome than just sticking them in jail," Helder said.

In order for the act to work, Helder said he believes everyone needs to invest in the entire plan and not focus on just one part.