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Arkansas Enacts “Smart on Crime” Reforms

| April 29, 2011

On March 22, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe enacted significant corrections reform in Arkansas by signing Senate Bill 750—the Public Safety Improvement Act—after it was passed unanimously in the Senate and 79-14 in the House. After initially drawing opposition from prosecutors, the measure won endorsements from the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association as well as associations representing police chiefs, sheriffs, county judges and circuit judges.

In Arkansas, the prison system holds thousands more prisoners than it has the capacity to house, resulting in hundreds of state convicts backed up in county jails awaiting bed space. Without the bill, those prison costs were expected to increase by $1.1 billion over the next decade. However, the Act lessens sentences for some nonviolent offenses and expands alternative-sentencing programs such as drug courts. It also allows the state Department of Community Correction to restore 49 positions for parole and probation officers. These reforms are expected to reduce the increasing prison costs by $875 million.

As State Rep. Darrin Williams correctly noted, “[Arkansas] must be tough on crime, but we must also be smart on crime.” The Act does not touch any violent crimes, and the anticipated prison savings will be reinvested in evidence-based community supervision and programs designed to reduce recidivism and hold offenders accountable.