Arkansas Legislature Passes Bills On Parole Fees, Solitary Confinement For Pregnant Inmates
The Arkansas Legislature has given final approval to a bill that allows for an increase or decrease in the monthly "supervision fee" that a parolee must pay to the Arkansas Division of Community Correction.
Under House Bill 1114, the currently monthly supervision fee a parolee must pay is $35. However, the bill allows for the Board of Corrections to increase or decrease the fee up to 20% "of the amount of the monthly supervision fee assessed at the time of the increase or decrease."
The fees are not allowed to exceed more than $50 a month, nor can they be changed more than once in two years. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 20-13.
Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, presented the bill to the Senate, arguing it gives the Board of Corrections greater flexibility in "meeting the needs of the parolees."
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, spoke against the bill.
"People who are in jail invariably don’t have much money, and their families sometimes have even less. And yet we continue to raise these fees on people," Chesterfield said. "We reduced them somewhat during the pandemic so that they could have some relationship with their family and now we want to raise it again. Oh, they have the opportunity to reduce it, but that never happens."
Speaking about the bill, Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, shared details of his conversation with Solomon Graves, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, who said it was his intent to use the bill to lower fees as opposed to raising them.
"Now, do I have confidence in who comes after Graves? Do I have confidence in state government? Do I have confidence in the future legislature? No. That’s why I’m speaking on the bill," Clark said. "But I have enough confidence based on everything else we do that I’m going to vote yes. But have the same concerns that Sen. Chesterfield, Sen. [Joyce] Elliott, [D-Little Rock], and others expressed."
The Senate also passed legislation that would prevent inmates or detainees who are pregnant from being placed in solitary confinement.
The Arkansas Senate voted 33-0 to pass House Bill 1470. Under the legislation, pregnant inmates, including juvenile detainees, shall not be placed in solitary confinement or "restrictive housing" which is defined as being confined in a cell for at least 22-hours in a day.
The bill also applies to detainees and inmates who have delivered a child in the previous 30 days, are breastfeeding, or are under a physicians’ care for postpartum depression or any other "medically verifiably postpartum condition."
There are exceptions under this legislation where solitary confinement would be allowed. Those exemptions include instances where the correctional or detention facility believes having the inmate in general population would pose a "direct threat" to the safety of a person, an unborn child or children.
No one on the Senate floor spoke against the legislation.
The bills now go to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, where if signed, they will become law.