After using a justice reinvestment approach, Arkansas passed legislation that creates local crisis stabilization units that will allow people with mental illnesses who commit low-level offenses to receive treatment in the community rather than go to prison. Trained law enforcement officers will be able to divert people into these units, alleviating the jail backlog and reserving bed space in the state’s full prisons for those who are convicted of serious and violent offenses. This publication presents a summary of the justice reinvestment process and legislation.
Arkansas’s criminal justice system faces serious challenges. Between 2004 and 2015, the state’s prison population grew by 31 percent. As a result of this increase, prison facilities are at capacity and a growing number of people sentenced to prison are being held in county jails awaiting transfer to prison. The prison population is currently projected to increase by 28 percent in the next decade.
To address these issues, in July 2015, Governor Asa Hutchinson, then Chief Justice Jim Hannah, Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam requested intensive technical assistance from The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center to use a justice reinvestment approach to assist the state with developing data-driven policy options designed to reduce the prison population, contain corrections spending, and reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
Passed by the Arkansas legislature and signed in April 2015, Act 895 established the bipartisan Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force to study the state’s criminal justice system. The 19-member task force, which included state lawmakers, members of the judiciary, corrections officials, prosecuting and defense attorneys, law enforcement representatives, and behavioral health practitioners met multiple times between November 2015 and December 2016 to review analyses and develop policy options. At its final meeting, the task force recommended that the legislature adopt these policies.
On March 8, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act (Act 423). Sponsored by Senator Jeremy Hutchinson and Representatives Clarke Tucker and Matthew Shepherd, Act 423 strengthens probation and parole supervision practices, establishes a more effective and less costly approach for sanctioning violations of supervision, creates crisis intervention training requirements for law enforcement agencies, and establishes Crisis Stabilization Units throughout Arkansas to divert people with mental illnesses away from county jails to provide treatment at the local level.
To support implementation of this Justice Reinvestment legislation, Governor Asa Hutchinson included in his budget $6.4 million for the establishment and operation of four Crisis Stabilization Units (CSUs), necessary funding for the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy (ALETA) and related agencies to train officers in crisis intervention techniques for people with mental illnesses, and permanent funding for an additional 68 supervision officers and treatment staff for Arkansas Community Correction. The CSG Justice Center provided implementation assistance by collaborating with state and agency leadership on the creation and operation of CSUs, the development of a sanction and incentive system that incorporates the use of 90- and 180-day sanctions in conjunction with behavior change programming, and the training of parole board members on best practices in parole decision-making. As of February 2019, two of the four CSUs were fully operational in the state, and over 492 law enforcement officers have received the 40-hour crisis intervention training.
The report and recommendations issued by the Arkansas Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force present a series of policy recommendations to address the challenges in Arkansas’s criminal justice system.
This presentation outlines proposed policy options for the Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, which are designed to address current pressures on prisons, county jails, and the state’s supervision system.