Summary: Oct 27 Budget hearing



County jail reimbursement


The current rate to house a state prisoner is $68.51, per Secretary Graves. The state reimburses county jails housing state prisoners at around $40 per day. Some counties hold 100 or more state prisoners at costs far higher than the $40 reimbursement rate.

Rep Wooten: So why such a drastic difference? I mean, I understand that you provide some services, but $40-42 dollars, that’s not enough. I mean, it costs White County $300,000 dollars to take care of the state’s problems, so we got to do something. I mean, are you not asking for any more increase for the county jails?

Secretary Graves’ response was that reimbursement rates are not up to the Department of Corrections, which he said just disbursed the funds.

Rep Wooten: Well, don’t you think, though, that you’re responsible for prisoner care? And they’re prisoners, and they’re state prisoners. They’ve been sentenced by state court, and we’re expecting the counties to take care of that. 

Secretary Graves said the backlog in county jails is the result of a capacity problem in state prisons and planned new facilities would help ease the burden.

Graves (DOC): Long term, the biggest benefit we can give the counties is not solely through reimbursement rate increases. That doesn’t fix the problem. The biggest benefit that we can give the counties is to ensure that on the state level, we have adequate capacity to take care of our responsibilities and not pass those along to the counties.

Rep Wooten: That’s the point. We either need to pay them, or we need to take them, the prisoners.


Rep Tosh asked if the two new planned facilities would be enough to take care of the backlog. Secretary Graves said the current backlog is 1,500.

Graves (DOC): It would. If those beds were online today, it would be enough to address our backup where we are today. It is not going to be enough to address our projected growth if we don’t implement efforts that continue to slow and hopefully reverse that growth trend.


New Facilities


Secretary Graves said the department is moving forward with an expansion at the North Central Unit for 500 additional beds and they have an RFQ out for an additional 1,000-bed prison.

Senator Elliott asked if they’d determined how they were going to fund the 1,000-bed facility. Secretary Graves said they had not.

As noted above, Secretary Graves told members the 1,500 planned additional beds would address current backlogs. 

Sen Hammer: In your estimations, considering that they’re projecting like a 10% growth rate for 10 years out or whatever that percentage was so that we’re not having to come back in 5 years and have this discussion again if we can get a new jail built?

Graves (DOC): Right now, we’re growing at about 1.5% and 1.7% over a 10-year term. These numbers reflect where we are, what we need today to address our problems today. We have made the decision that because there are some long-term issues and we’re 60 days out, I guess 90 maybe, from a change in administration, that a long-term request beyond where we are today is something that would be best left for conversation with the incoming administration. I can assure you it is my preference and the preference of the Board of Corrections that we don’t trickle this out over the next several years, that if we are going to have to make a bed request, a multi-thousand bed request, that that be done sooner rather than later and not done over the next two, three, four biennium.


Medical Contracts


Senator Elliott asked about medical contracts currently out to bid for health services. Secretary Graves said they are seeking a single contractor to provide healthcare to the Division and Correction and Community Correction that includes mental healthcare. 

Sen Elliott: What is it about the bundle model that makes you think that this is the best way to procure these contracts for the best care for the folks that we have in our care?

Graves (DOC): Economies of scale.

Sen Elliott: What? Wait, economy of scale?

Graves (DOC): Economy of scale, so–

Sen Elliott: Not delivery of services?

Graves (DOC): No. I was getting to that point, ma’am. I would say the first point is economies of scale. By having a bundle delivery model, personnel, it’s easier for a single vendor to leverage personnel instead of multiple vendors with multiple personnel structures.…Because we know that when you have that physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner working hand in hand with that dentist, working hand in hand with that optometrist, working hand in hand in the case moving forward with that mental health care provider, all on the same team, all under the same system, you don’t have those barriers as you would if you had a company that did X, a company that did Y, and a company that did Z.


Senator Hester wanted assurance that the division is getting a variety of bidders on the 10-year healthcare contract, which could cost the state up to a billion dollars.

Sen Hester: I just want some assurances that we’re going to have many people bid on this and it’s going to be a very competitive process.

Graves said bids are due back on December 7 and that 7 vendors had so far conducted site visits in preparation for bid submission. 

Senator Hester asked if UAMS could be a vendor for the healthcare contract and said he would prefer to keep the money in state if possible. 

Graves said he has not heard interest from UAMS on this contract.

Senator Elliott reiterated that she’d like to see the money stay in the state.

Sen Elliott: So would it be fair to say that there’s a possibility.. none of that money, then, if we’re folding mental health into this too, it’s very possible none of that money will end up staying in our state.

Graves (DOC): Well, no, ma’am, because the vendor we currently have and previous vendors, they’re not flying in 200-300 staff. Their payroll is made up of Arkansans. There have been instances in the past where their subcontractors have been Arkansans, their medical device suppliers have been Arkansans. So, no, ma’am, I would not agree that this money is completely leaving the state, because it’s not.


Senator Elliott asked for the names of the mental health subcontractors that Wellpath uses in Arkansas. Secretary Graves said he would get that to her if they will provide that information.

Sen Elliott: So they can hold that a secret from us, who their subcontractors are?

Graves: I can’t speak for them, but I will ask. And if that is something that can be released, I will provide that to staff.


Levee board partnerships


Senator Chesterfield asked about the division’s relationship with the Woodson Levee Board near the Wrightsville Unit. Secretary Graves pointed out that the Cummins Unit is also along a levee and that the prisoners do maintenance like clearing trees and brush along the levee.

Sen Chesterfield: So when they ask me about it, and they continue to ask me about partnering with you, when was the last time you guys cleaned all that stuff you’re talking about that is a part of your operating expenses. When was the last time that was done? Give me a year.

Graves (DOC): We can follow up. It’s an ongoing thing at both locations. We can get with–

Sen Chesterfield: Because I’m not hearing about that. I’m just hearing that they’re trying to get a meeting with you and they can’t get a meeting with you, and there’s one supposed to be coming up in Wrightsville.

Secretary Graves said he would follow up and get the Senator more information. 


Prison alternatives


Rep Hodges asked about what the division is doing to reduce the number of prisoners and the revolving door for some into our prison system.

Rep Hodges: Public safety is extremely important, but my question is, as far as budgeting is concerned, in those conversations that you guys are having, are you all looking at ways to cut back on the cost? Because Arkansas incarcerates a lot. And rather than looking at measures on building more beds, are we looking at measures on trying to get these guys transitioned out of these prisons? And I heard Senator Elliott mention about mental health issues. We’ve seen the fact that a lot of these inmates have mental health issues. Is incarcerating them the answer, or do we need to look at building mental health facilities in the state rather than adding more prison beds? And what are we doing to save money rather than continue to throw money at our criminal justice system?

Secretary Graves responded that the division has invested in both education and mental health to try to prepare prisoners for a stable life outside of the system.

Graves (DOC): Prison capacity is one piece of a larger solution… I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done to modernize our career technical education delivery within the department. Over the last two years, through the impact of that legislation, we have been able to pump in about $2 million additional dollars into career technical education for our inmate population. You may have seen recent media coverage of the heavy equipment simulator program that we implemented through that reorganization and reallocation of resources at our Varney unit. We now have a career technical education model that, in terms of instructional delivery, looks like what I’m sure all of you are proud of among your K-12 schools in your district. And that is what we wanted as a correctional system, that the students within our school district, whether they’re getting GED instruction, whether they’re getting career technical education instruction, are getting a world-class education that prepares them to be full-fledged members of this 21st century economy.

He said the legislature also recently removed restrictions on prisoner education that previous restricted education solely to inmates without a high school diploma or GED. Those opportunities are now open to more inmates.

Rep Hodges asked how the system is working to return those newly-trained inmates back into the workforce.

Rep Hodges: I’m glad to see our inmates are getting GED and things of that nature, but what are they doing? That didn’t answer the question of recidivism. As far as, are they still sitting in prison with the GED? Are they still incarcerated with this technical certificate? What are we doing to transition them out of the system so they can utilize these programs that they’ve received while they’re incarcerated?

Graves said that the Board of Correction has specified that training and education qualify an inmate for meritorious good time, which speeds up their parole track. 

Graves: Ultimately, it’s that release determination by the parole board. But from my experience with previous boards and with our current board, there is strong weight given to inmates that have taken advantage of the self-improvement opportunities that are available within our system.

Graves also noted that the prison system is the largest provider of mental health and drug treatment in the state.

Graves: We know the best place to treat someone with a substance use disorder, with a mental health care issue, is not in a carceral setting. Unfortunately, myself, Director Payne, and Director Bradshaw are the largest mental health and drug treatment providers in the state of Arkansas. That’s a problem. We’ve got to reverse that. And one of the ways we think long term we can reverse that is through the implementation of that revised [Medicaid expansion] waiver program, once that comes out of CMS.

He said they have instituted a pilot mental health program at Brickeys that has improved the quality of services available there.


Parole violations


Rep Ray said he had read that there are more than 12,000 Arkansans not in compliance with parole or probation. He asked how the department is addressing that issue.

Secretary Graves said they are focusing heavily in and around Pulaski County with 14 additional officers engaging in high-risk caseloads.

Graves: …attacking it from two ways. One, by intensively supervising that population, we’re hoping that they don’t abscond supervision, because my view of this has always been you’re not going to abscond if you’re fully compliant. If you’re not using drugs, if you’re not engaged in criminal activity, you have no reason not to show up to your officer. When you’re engaging in behavior that somehow violates the terms of your supervision, that’s when you’re going to quit coming in. 

He said they are renovating their Batesville facility to house 700 offenders per year in a “sanction center.”

Graves: We’re on the lookout now for other opportunities to establish sanction centers across the state to address that behavior, to give those offenders a wake-up call, other than continuing to transfer them to the Division of Correction, which only compounds another problem, which is not enough prison beds. 

He added they are also transitioning to a risk-based supervision model.

The director of Community Correction added that officers last year went through a US Marshals program so they can now fly to other states to pick up offenders.


Security cameras

In response to a question from Senator Hammer, Secretary Graves said they are looking to add “surveillance technology” to “do better and do different in our profession.”


Recreational Marijuana

Rep Wooten asked what the division is doing to prepare for the potential passage of Issue 4, which would allow recreational marijuana in Arkansas. Graves said the Board of Corrections formally came out against Issue 4.

Graves (DOC): We see every day what that risk is. Individuals continually chasing that first high, and when they’re unable to achieve that first high, proceeding to harder drugs or proceeding to more illicit activities. We are having conversations internally about what that looks like.

Rep Wooten: See, that’s what concerns me. I hear an awful lot of talk about 45 million flowing into law enforcement. That’s a minuscule amount of money that it’s going to cost the state if Issue 4 passes. And you’re the first person that I’ve had an opportunity to ask that question of. And I’ve had no one else, the Health Department, DHS or anyone else, to express a concern relative to the cost of the taxpayers of this state. And I guarantee you it will be more than $450 million. 


Inmate phone calls


Senator Hester said inmate communication with family is important to mental health and asked if the state charges for those calls.

Sen Hester: When you guys are doing the– I don’t know if that’s called commissary, communication, whatever that is, do you take into account what that costs the families or inmates? Is that a bigger part of it? Do you make money off that, or is that just a pass-through? How is that process?

Graves (DOC): We make a small commission off of telephone. We do not make a commission in the Division of Correction off of video visitation. And actually that contract runs through March, April of 2023. So we will have a RFQ for inmate communications coming out late this year or early January to address that piece. But while we make a small commission, it is not– we’ve actually reduced costs throughout this procurement.

Sen Hester: Good. Do inmates have unlimited opportunity to do that, or is it so much per week?

Payne (DOC): Yes, they can schedule that at any time during the week. They can schedule video visitation. They could also utilize the phone as long as no one else is using the phone. They don’t have their own personal phone, but as long as no one else is on the phone, they could make calls anytime they want during the week.

Sen Hester: Twice a day they could call home.

Payne (DOC): Some call home 10 times a day.


Inmate pay


Senator Hammer asked about inmate pay for the work release program. Inmates in this program reimburse the state $17 per day for their care and custody. Senator Hammer asked if the state could withhold a greater amount of their wages due to rising costs and a rise in minimum wage.

Sen Hammer: When’s the last time we raised that rate? Because if they’re the beneficiaries of minimum wage increase or other increases that are offered, do we need to look at raising that 17 per day to keep up with additional costs and have them help pay a bigger portion?

Graves (DOC): We just had that conversation on Monday, and no one on our leadership team remembers when it was not $17 a day.

Sen Hammer: Would that require legislative action or is that something you do within the department?

Graves (DOC): That authority to set that rate is given in statute to the Board of Corrections.

Sen Hammer: Okay. So I wish you would look at that and give a report back, if you don’t mind.

Senator Hammer also said he’d heard stories about inmates from the work release program spending their money unwisely once released from prison.  

Sen Hammer: Constitutionally, is there anything we can do that could help slow down their access to that money until they have a chance to adapt back out into the free world so as not to be taken advantage if they walk out there with a large sum of money?

Graves (DOC): We only have authority to hold on to their trust funds while they’re in the custody of the Division of Correction. Once they leave the custody, then we have to turn their funds over to them. We are aware of that issue. So many of our work release programs have volunteers that come in to specifically address issues related to financial literacy. Because for many of them, that is the most amount of money that they have ever had in their lives, either at all or legally. So that is a concern of ours. And we’re constantly working to engage communities of care that have interests in coming in and providing that financial literacy education.


Representative Evans asked about inmate labor on the state’s prison farm.

Rep Evans: It says the program provides jobs for approximately 300 inmates. Is there compensation that’s tied to that?

Graves (DOC): So that number is actually what we consider to be skilled farm jobs. We have far more than that that actually work jobs. We do not compensate monetarily inmates in the Department of Correction except for those that are placed in a work release program or in our correctional industries division through what is called a PIE project, which is an acronym.

Rep Evans: So basically these 300 inmates, for a lack of better words, that’s free labor?

Graves (DOC): Well, and this is not me wordsmithing. This is what I generally believe in. While we do not provide monetary compensation, we do teach the dignity of work. For many of them, they have not learned previously. And one of the things we’ve started over the last year is we actually have, through our career technical education program, we now have an agricultural technology certification program. So inmates assigned to skilled jobs in the farm can also get a certificate of proficiency that if they choose to continue working in the agricultural industry, they have a demonstrated mastery of skills that from what we’ve been told by the industry that any farmer, whether it’s commercial or private, would be quick to snap up.

Rep Evans: Yes, certainly I would think that there would be a definite intangible value to preparing them with skills, technical training to enter back into the workforce. 


Prison farm


Representative Evans asked about the profit and land leased out by the state’s prison farm operations. Secretary Graves responded that they made about $3 million net profit over the past two years and that they don’t lease out any land.


Supervision fees vs programs provided


Representative Cavenaugh pointed out the discrepancy between the fees being paid by offenders on community supervision versus the programs that are being paid to them out of those fees.

Rep Cavenaugh: But are we using this money to really help with repeat offenders so they don’t keep coming back? Because I would think if they’re paying the fees for supervision, then we should be providing them some sort of help into staying out back in, so that we’re not having repeat offenders. If we’ve got a big balance like that and we’re saying we got community programs and we’re asking for $6 million but we’re only spending $1.8. I mean, they’re paying the fees. It’s kind of like if I’m buying a fishing license but they’re paying the fees. And I mean, we talk about this all the time about how we have to change the cycle of repeat offenders. It looks like this would be a great opportunity where we could set up some programs to help those people so that they would not be repeat offenders.

Graves (DOC): This is how we operate the division that supervises, that provides that treatment. Most states do not provide in-house treatment to offenders on supervision. We’re one of the states that does, and we pay for that in-house treatment, both staff and through curricula, through this fund. …So yes, I’m not going to sit here and mislead you. Yes, this in large part does go to operations costs to provide supervision, provide treatment staff, but there are direct services that are also paid out of these funds.

Rep Cavenaugh: Well, if you’re going to be asking for an appropriation of $6.2 million for community correction programs, I’d like to see programs used to help these people because that’s what we need. We have to find a way to make a difference. And if we’ve got a fund balance and I know we need to spend it on other things– but this is a huge issue