Arkansas Legislative Panel Airs Parole Concerns

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 8:53 am  

LITTLE ROCK - The interim director of the Arkansas Community Correction Department told legislators Thursday that parole officers can go to her if there's a problem getting a parole violator off the streets, a move she made after a man who skipped parole violation hearings was charged with murder.

The Joint Performance Review Committee is holding a series of meeting to address problems within the probation and parole system, which were highlighted when Darrell Dennis was arrested and charged with a May 10 slaying in Little Rock.

Parole officer Debra James told the panel Thursday that it's hard to get approval for a parole revocation hearing and said she wished there were "a fail-safe system" to quickly get a convict back behind bars.

Sheila Sharp, interim director of the agency, said she'd already put that system in place.

The parole officers "can come directly to me," Sharp said.

Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, said he met with Sharp and a number of parole officers on Tuesday and that the officers reported that they were afraid of recriminations from managers and also afraid of some of the parolees they supervised.

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, asked Sharp whether she could change the agency without significant personnel moves.

Since Dennis' arrest, department director David Eberhard has retired, and Sharp said there have been other changes. She was reluctant to discuss them though, because they involve personnel matters.

Since some procedural changes were made, Sharp said, an additional 300 parole absconders have been locked up.

"That's a great testament, but it's a little late," Williams said.

In the Dennis case, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first reported that Dennis had been arrested 14 times since being released on parole following imprisonment for aggravated robbery, and that he skipped parole revocation hearings that could have ended with his return to custody. Officials said his alleged violations preceded the slaying.

"There was a pretty big trail on this guy," Sanders said.



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