Criminal Justice Reform in Arkansas

History: within the last 20 years, Arkansas correctional spending has increased by $304 million. Regardless of that spending, the state still had immense problems with their criminal justice system. In 2011 Arkansas passed SB750, which prioritized jail space for drug manufacturers, sending most drug users to drug or accountability courts. This bill was successful in that 39 drug courts were created and they have a mere 5.7% recidivism rate among participants. However, by 2013 the prison population continued to grow. Through act 895 in 2015, the state created a criminal justice oversight task force to determine the problems.

Problem: By 2016, Governor Asa Huchinson reported that Arkansas had the highest incarceration rate among any state in the nation, however they had not seen any reduction in crime. Based on the studies done by the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, Huchinson refers to parole violators as the main increase of prisoners and most of that group includes non-violent misdemeanors.

Solution: Governor Hutchinson presented SB 136 in 2017 in attempt to once again reduce incarceration rates. This bill directs parole violators to community correction facilities for a limited amount of time rather than sending them back to prison in order to reduce the prison population as well as recidivism rates. It also created crisis intervention centers to be used for nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses or drug treatment issues. This act was based on a similar program used in San Antonio, Texas, who saw savings of more than $100 million and reduced recidivism rates.

Results: Since its height in 2014, incarceration rates have fallen. This is clear indication of the success of rehabilitation programs such as the ones implemented through the 2017 Act. Rehabilitation combined with less severe punishments for nonviolent offenders, and educational and vocational training reduces recidivism and should be used to save money as well as promote a safer society.

Arkansas Times -Criminal justice reform bill makes it out of Senate committee

CSG Justice Center -Arkansas Legislature Looks to Tackle Prison Reform, Overcrowding with Proposed Bill

CSG Justice Center - Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force Report

Right on Crime - Arkansas Criminal Justice Reform Initiatives

Letter to Chairman Matthew Shepard from David Safavian & Grover Norquist

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