By Steve Brawner
A bill that would move some parole and probation violators into lower-level facilities rather than prison and create mental health crisis stabilization units passed the House of Representatives Tuesday (Mar. 7) and headed back to the Senate, where it has already passed.
Senate Bill 136 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act, was one of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s legislative priorities prior to the session. The bill passed 86-1 with four present. The bill returns to the Senate to address some non-controversial technical language that requires a Senate vote.
Under the bill, for minor parole or probation violations, offenders would be subject to a 45-day program in a Department of Community Correction facility, while those guilty of misdemeanors would spend 90 days in one of those programs. Those offenders can now be sent to prison.
Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, a co-sponsor, said the state’s prison system is “busting at the seams” in a state that has the country’s highest incarceration growth rate over the last five years.
“We have to figure out what we’re going to do, how we’re going to allocate the most expensive resource in state government, and that is a bed in the Arkansas Department of Correction,” he said.
Tucker said more than 1,600 inmates are in the prison system after their paroles or probations were revoked as a result of a technical violation or a nonviolent or nonsexual misdemeanor offense, resulting in them spending an average of 12.5 months in the Department of Correction. The influx is leading the department to release offenders early to make room, including violent offenders.
Meanwhile, the bill would provide crisis intervention training to all Arkansas law enforcement officers to identify nonthreatening individuals in a mental health crisis.
Tucker said Mississippi officers were able to identify and de-escalate 52% of such situations after a similar program was adopted there. Instead of sending those people to county jails that are not equipped to treat them, they would be transferred to one of three newly created 16-bed crisis stabilization units for two or three days.
House members also passed Senate Bill 362 by Sen. Lance Eads, R-Springdale, which phases out the InvestArk tax credit program and uses the savings to phase out existing sales taxes on manufacturers’ repair parts and replacement parts. Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, said the InvestArk program benefits only companies that invest $5 million a year, while the tax cut on repair and replacement parts would be available to small manufacturers. It passed 85-2 with 3 voting present.
The House also passed Senate Bill 288, the Workforce Development Center Authority Act by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would allow multiple school districts to work together, even pass shared millages, in order to develop shared workforce training centers. The bill passed 88-2 with one voting present.
Representatives also passed Senate Bill 303 by Sen. Eddie Cheatham, R-Cabot, which provides enhanced transportation funding for school districts based on the length of their bus routes. It passed 89-0 with one present.