By Jordan Bontke
State leaders heard from a national coalition on ways to decrease the states’ growing prison population.
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center told a Criminal Justice Task Force that Arkansas has one of the fastest growing prison population rates in the nation.
So far, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative has compiled enough data to measure that prisons are operating at 135 percent of their capacity. In June, the state received a forecast indicating the prison population could increase 35 percent in 10 years. They estimate the state could spend up to $1.3 billion to accommodate construction and housing costs if nothing is done to decrease the prison population.
Andy Barbee, research manager with the CSG Justice Center, presented a three step process that has been implemented in over 20 other states in the U.S.
Barbee said they start by collecting data with prisons and stakeholders, then create policy that potentially turns in to legislation. He said for about the next nine months, the CSG Justice Center will crunch the numbers behind what’s driving population growth, what’s bringing criminals back to prison, and how sentencing impacts the population.
“Sentencing guideline are advisory, they’re not mandatory. Justices can sentence outside of the guidelines. If you’re going to sentence out of those guidelines, there needs to be a compelling reason as to why,” said Governor Asa Hutchinson.
Gov. Hutchinson spoke to the task force on Monday, asking them to review the guidelines judges are given for sentencing criminals.
“We’ve got sentencing guidelines, but they’re not being followed. And they’re being ignored to a certain extent,” said Gov. Hutchinson.
He also said he’d like to look at the issue in the 2017 legislative session.