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Two proposed ordinances authored by Circuit Court Judge Willard Proctor and placed before the Pulaski County Quorum Court on his behalf have raised new questions about Proctor's Cycle Breakers probation program.
There's speculation that the proposals have something to do with an investigative report on the program set to be released Aug. 1.
(UPDATE: The audit was released the day after this article went to press for our print edition. The audit criticizes Proctor's program for a lengthy list of procedures that appear to violate constitutional, statutory and ethical rules.Read it in full here. Proctor responds in the audit and proposes methods to clear up objections to the program.)
Cycle Breakers Inc. is the non-profit arm of Cycle Breakers, a probation and rehabilitation program unique to Proctor's Fifth Division Circuit Court. Under the Cycle Breakers program, probationers are required to attend classes on subjects such as parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, job skills or anger management. They pay their probation fees directly to the Cycle Breakers program, and are assessed fines of up to $100 per incident if they miss a court-mandated meeting. Other judges use the state probation office for probationers and the county clerk collects any fees.
One of the proposed ordinances, sponsored by Justice of the Peace Mary L. Williams, would have the Quorum Court declare “that employees of Pulaski County are authorized to receive compensation and reimbursements from Cycle Breakers, Inc. for their services as security, drivers, group leaders and staff.” The ordinance would also authorize Proctor's employees, already on the Pulaski County payroll, to receive additional reimbursement from Cycle Breakers for tuition, training and other classes that “further their qualifications, skills or education.” Proctor thus could direct money from fees he sets to his employees, as a supplement to existing pay.
Another Proctor ordinance, also sponsored by Williams, seeks to amend a 2004 ordinance which lists the county/circuit clerk as the designated collector of all fines and fees assessed in Circuit Court. Proctor has been collecting that money. The new ordinance would authorize Proctor's court to collect fines, probation fees and victim restitution payments and to disburse restitution funds to victims.
District 13 JP Phil Stowers thinks the proposed ordinances are an indication that Proctor is trying to preemptively take care of problems that might come to light in the investigative report on Cycle Breakers, compiled by the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit. While the Quorum Court won't see the results of that investigation until it is officially released, Proctor has already been briefed on the findings. Revealing the results of an investigation to the subject of the investigation before the results are officially released is standard procedure, an official with Legislative Audit said.
“I feel that maybe there are some things that will come out in this legislative audit that could potentially be indicting, or at least raise questions,” Stowers said. “What they're trying to do is get ahead of the game and say, we've already taken care of this.' ”
Stowers said that he sent a letter to Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines and County Attorney Karla Burnett in May, pointing out that by collecting payments from probationers through the Cycle Breakers program, Proctor's court was in violation of both the 2004 Pulaski County ordinance and 2001 state law requiring all fines and fees assessed in circuit court to be collected by the county clerk. He said he has still not heard back from Villines or Burnett about the matter.
While Stowers said that he believes in the intent of the Cycle Breakers program, he agrees with critics of the program who say that Proctor's office and staff shouldn't be so entwined with the dealings of the agency, especially on the financial end. All money relating to probation, he said, should be collected by the state. Stowers adds that though the program does good work, Judge Proctor has done a “horrible PR job” by stonewalling the press and private citizens who sought access to the program's financial records. “He raised a lot of questions about its integrity,” Stowers said. “He's taken something that could have been a positive and he's allowed it to turn into a complete negative.”
Cycle Breakers has also stirred controversy by using probation fees to buy a building near an elementary school for programs for probationers. School parents successfully fought a rezoning for the program.
Williams is a long-time supporter of Cycle Breakers, which she said benefits the county by keeping young people out of jail, a benefit in aiding jail crowding and encouraging rehabilitation.
Williams said that those who have criticized the Cycle Breakers program haven't offered solutions. Absent that, she said, the county should support Proctor and his program.
“They're doing an audit of it,” Williams said. “But we've got to support people. We've got to find out if there is really a problem in his program. We can't fight it, because nobody else is coming to the front and doing what he's doing. If there's a problem, let's find the problem and let's get it solved.
Proctor didn't return calls for this article.