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JRI Years: 2011, 2017

2011

Background1

In 2010, then-Governor Mike Beebe established the Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections to address the state’s growing prison population and corrections costs. With technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute, the working group used a Justice Reinvestment approach to examine corrections data and policies and develop data-driven solutions to maximize resources, while strengthening public safety. The working group found that certain alternatives to incarceration—such as probation—were underutilized and individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses were serving lengthy prison sentences.

Policies

In late 2010, the working group issued a set of recommendations which were translated into legislation and introduced as The Public Safety Improvement Act (Act 570). Act 570, enacted into law in 2011, strengthened community supervision by requiring the use of evidence-based supervision practices, establishing the use of earned discharge for people deemed a lower public safety risk, and establishing the use of responses to violations. The new law also ensured that prison resources were focused on individuals convicted of the most serious offenses by revising drug laws to align penalties with the seriousness of the offense and increasing the theft threshold from $500 to $1,000 for many low-level felony theft offenses.

Outcomes

As a result of the policy changes, eligibility for probation for people convicted of low-level drug offenses expanded, and the reclassification of theft of property valued at less than $1,000 diverted convicted individuals away from the state prison system. Arkansas strengthened community supervision, enhanced data collection and performance measurement, and prioritized prison space for people convicted of violent or multiple offenses.2

JRI-Driven Policies and Practices

  • Reclassify/redefine drug offenses
  • Reclassify/redefine property offenses
  • Revise parole hearings/decision/eligibility standards
  • Establish/expand geriatric or medical parole
  • Establish/expand earned discharge (probation/parole)
  • Authorize performance incentive funding
  • Authorize/develop/modify graduated responses or matrices for violations
  • Establish/improve electronic monitoring
  • Require/improve risk-needs assessment
  • Require evidence-based practices
  • Reform/establish specialty courts or diversion programs
  • Authorize administrative jail sanctions
  • Require data collection/performance measures

2017

Background

Following successes resulting from Arkansas’s first Justice Reinvestment effort, the state’s criminal justice system faced challenges with its rising prison population. After a murder committed by an individual released prior to the 2011 legislation, the Board of Corrections paused parole approvals. In addition, people on parole who committed violations that would previously have resulted in a sanction commensurate with the violation were more likely to have parole revoked and returned to prison. Between 2004 and 2015, the state’s prison population grew by 31 percent. As a result of this increase, prison facilities were at capacity, and a growing number of people sentenced to prison were being held in county jails awaiting transfer to prison. The prison population was projected to increase 28 percent by 2026. In July 2015, state leaders requested technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center to use JRI for a second time to develop data-driven policy options designed to address its rising prison population.

Policies

On March 8, 2017, then-Governor Asa Hutchinson signed the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act (Act 423). 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 (CSUs) throughout Arkansas to divert people with mental illnesses away from county jails to provide treatment at the local level. To that end, Arkansas implemented several policy and practice changes.3

Outcomes

Arkansas’s CSU facilities serve as alternatives to jail, where law enforcement officers can place people experiencing mental health crises who have been arrested for nonviolent offenses. Before these units existed, people experiencing a mental health crisis who came into contact with police were often taken to jail, which caused crowding in county jails that are not equipped to provide the kind of care and treatment that CSUs can. As part of its Justice Reinvestment effort, the state allocated $6.4 million to operate 4 units and provide Crisis Intervention Team training to law enforcement officers. As the CSUs continue to be built and implemented, they are expected to not only alleviate jail crowding but reduce recidivism and court caseloads.

For more information, see Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas.

JRI-Driven Policies and Practices

  • Establish sentencing commission/revise sentencing guidelines
  • Revise parole hearings/decision/eligibility standards
  • Require evidence-based practices
  • Cap revocation time
  • Require data collection/performance measures
  • Establish/extend oversight council

1 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2023, Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas, New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, retrieved May 16, 2023 from https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/JusticeReinvestmentinArkansasOverview.pdf.

2 Ibid.

3 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2023, Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas, New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, retrieved May 19, 2023 from https://csgjusticecenter.org/projects/justice-reinvestment/past-states/arkansas/.

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