By Phil Buck
In a presentation to the governor’s criminal justice task force Wednesday, the report showed not only that Arkansas is locking people up at a higher rate than any other state in the country, but also that the corrections system costs the state half a billion dollars every year, and if nothing is done to change the trend it could cost the state over a billion dollars more.
“We can go on and on about crime in Arkansas, it’s going down,” Research Manager for the Council of State Governments Justice Center Andy Barbee told the governor’s task force. “But your neighboring states are experiencing declining crime as well and, in many instances, a decline that is surpassing that of Arkansas.”
Barbee said the fact that Arkansas leads the nation in prison population growth surprised them.
“That definitely caught our attention,” said Barbee. “We weren’t expecting that, we knew from the stakeholders here who were engaging us that they knew they had a challenge on their hands, but we certainly didn’t realize that it was the fastest-growing prison population.”
“The point they’re trying to make is: we’re incarcerating too many people at too high of a rate,” said Saline County prosecutor Ken Casady. “Just a couple years ago we had a fix in our parole system where people were getting revoked for committing new felonies. It was an obvious fix, we needed to do it. Now I’m afraid these folks are coming in and wanting to roll back some real progress that we’ve made.”
“I can understand why folks might fear that ‘we finally have some things in place’ that they feel were overdue, and have a fear that some outside group that maybe isn’t from Arkansas, doesn’t understand Arkansas, might not appreciate the value of something and might make a reckless recommendation. We’re very sensitive to that,” added Barbee.
Little Rock Police Chief Kenton Buckner also sits on the governor’s task force and expressed skepticism over where the Justice Center’s report may lead. He said more focus needs to be put on other factors that contribute to crime, namely poverty and lack of education.