by Max Brantley
I jump to no conclusions here, but I was reminded again today how much is yet to play out on the decision to move to more community solutions for non-violent offenders rather than expensive prison time. Early release and probation sometimes have unfortunate outcomes.
This was pointed out to me by a correspondent and occasional critic of community-based punishment efforts in Arkansas.
He notes that a couple of recent homicide suspects were not only previous offenders, but "absconders" in the parlance of the parole system. That is, they'd stopped reporting to parole or probation officers and had longstanding outstanding warrants for their arrests for those violations. The cases:
* Marie Ashford, arrested in the fatal stabbing Saturday of Jeffery Hughes in North Little Rock. According to the Department of Community Correction, she was in "abscond" status for failure to report to a parole board. Her record has been sporadic since her release on parole in March 2005. She's been subject to an active abscond warrant since Aug. 22, 2006.
* Andrea Demond Graves was arested for shooting Cory Young to death Friday night at Wright Avenue and Battery. Graves was also a parolee and had been considered an absconder since May.
Each of the suspects had previous robbery convictions, so they were not cases of drug offenders turned violent.
It might surprise you to know that, in Pulaski County alone currently, roughly 1,460 people are in abscond status — 910 on probation and 553 on parole. The numbers change as absconders are returned to supervision.
This prompted me to ask DCC how many are NOT absconders. Total caseload in the Little Rock area is about 9,200. These numbers present fair concerns about the readiness to handle a new influx of cases diverted from prison to alternative treatment and handling. Time will tell.
I also asked how someone could be on abscond status for five years and, what happens, when absconders are brought back into the system. The response from DCC's Rhonda Sharp:
I don’t know how often someone is on abscond status for a period of years. I do know that it happens. It can be difficult to find someone who doesn’t want to be found. But, efforts are made to locate absconders.
Parole can be revoked. Offenders who violate parole (absconding is a violation) can be continued on parole, continued on parole with additional conditions, placed in the technical violator program or returned to prison. It will vary depending on several different factors.
An offender can be placed on abscond status if they have no contact with their officer for a period of 30 days. At times an offender will report or call in several days after he/she has been placed into abscond status. And sometimes they simply stop reporting.
Another source questions the long process between being an absconder and potentially heading back to prison:
If the Arkansas Board of Parole is the paroling authority, why are they not determining who gets a parole revocation hearing instead of DCC? By use of the sanctioning grid, DCC officers are currently prohibited from referring offenders for revocation hearings unless they commit a new crime involving violence or a sex offense. You can tote a gun, manufacture meth, burglarize a house and stay on the street. No action to revoke parole is allowed, just have them report to the parole office more often. You can abscond supervision 3 times before you get a revocation hearing. The Parole Board currently has three hearing examiners (attorneys) who have absolutely nothing to do