Criminal Justice Reform in Arkansas


Within the last 30 years, Arkansas correctional spending increased by $304 million and now it has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country. Despite having such a high incarceration rate, Arkansas has not seen a reduction in crime. Based on the studies done by the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, Governor Asa Huchinson (R) refers to parole violators as the main increase of prisoners, most of whom are getting locked up for non-violent misdemeanors.


In 2011, Arkansas passed a bill that prioritizes jail space for drug manufacturers, sending most drug users to drug or accountability courts, and in 2015, Arkansas created a criminal justice oversight task force to determine problems within the system. In 2017, Governor Hutchinson introduced legislation that directs parole violators to community correction facilities for a limited amount of time rather than sending them back to prison. It also created crisis intervention centers to be used for nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses or drug treatment issues. Its goals were to reduce the prison population and recidivism rates. This act was based on a similar program used in San Antonio, Texas, which saw savings of more than $100 million in addition to reduced recidivism rates.


Thirty-nine drug courts were created as a result of 2011 legislation, leading to only a 5.7% recidivism rate among participants. Since 2017 legislation, incarceration rates have been on the decline -- a clear indication that rehabilitation programs are working. By implementing rehabilitation programs, reducing severe punishments for nonviolent offenders, and providing educational and vocational training programs have proven to save not only taxpayer dollars, but make society safer.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.

Letter to Chairman Matthew Shepard from David Safavian & Grover Norquist