Lawmakers and Department of Correction officials signed off on a new set of rules to reduce overcrowding and the number of paroled inmates who get in trouble and return to prison.

One new policy changes the eligibility requirements for the boot camp, which is an intensive and physically demanding program for first time, non-violent offenders. It lasts for 105 days. Boot camp has space for 100 men and 24 women, but sometimes there are empty slots.

Officials are changing current rules so that they can accept second time offenders. By allowing more people to go through boot camp, it will lower the number of inmates in the state prison units. There are 87 offenses that disqualify an inmate from going through boot camp and correction officials want to expand the list to include violations of new laws such as human trafficking and using the computer for sex offenses.

Another new policy is an attempt to reduce recidivism rates, which are the rates at which inmates get in trouble and return to prison after getting out. In Arkansas, the rate is 41 to 44 percent. Inmates who are within six months of their parole eligibility date could qualify for a new vocational program in Pine Bluff in which they demolish condemned houses. They would live in transitional housing and receive life training as well.

The cost of housing abut 40 parolees in a transitional setting in Pine Bluff would be about $30 a day, much lower than the $65 a day it costs to securely house them in a prison unit. One benefit would be to prepare the parolees for a productive life outside the prison. Many of them are not familiar with the demands of holding jobs.

Another proposal that officials discussed would expand the focus of vocational training and life skills classes to parolees in medium and high risk categories. One goal is to improve the job skills of about 2,000 parolees now in transitional facilities.

Also, the legislature will consider a proposal by correction officials to fund a new $100 million prison with 1,000 beds, of which several hundred would be suitable for problem inmates who continuously cause trouble with other inmates.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov, call the office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.