Gov. Asa Hutchinson Discusses Criminal Justice Reforms

Feb 23, 2015

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaking with Roby Brock about prison reform proposals on Talk Business & Politics.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

Last week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled his plan to reform the state’s prison, parole and probation programs in a holistic, comprehensive effort to reduce crime, stem repeat offenders and curtail a high-growth area of the state’s budget. The price tag for Hutchinson’s plan is $64 million with about $32 million being spent in the next two years.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Monday evening at 6:06 on KUAR, Gov. Hutchinson said that his plan would free up prison beds without building a completely new $100 million, 1,000 bed prison although there are more than 18,000 inmates in an overcrowded state prison system and more backed up in county jails.

"You’re right the numbers are challenging for us because we not only want to reduce the population in prison, but we also want to reduce the backlog in our county jails,” Hutchinson said. “This approach though is trying to provide the greatest flexibility.”

Hutchinson’s plan:

  • Would allow the creation of regional jail facilities in partnership with counties, the transfer of some prisoners out-of-state, and expand existing prison beds strategically.
  • Calls for more probation officers to help with enforcement of those on parole and probation.
  • Creates a Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force to study outcomes of the state’s new efforts.
  • Creates a “pay-for-success” program to finance programs for reducing recidivism rates through intervention.
  • Utilizes the Medicaid program to help parolees and probationers to receive medical services, including substance abuse and mental health treatment.
  • Provides more funding for specialty courts.
  • Extends to police officers and Department of Community Corrections officers the authority for warrantless searches of probationers and parolees. Currently, parole and probation officers have the authority as probationers and parolees have forfeited their Fourth Amendment rights as part of their parole.

Hutchinson said he knows the warrantless search proposal and other reform ideas may be controversial.

The governor is also calling on reforms to the state Parole Board.

Hutchinson wants to allow the chairman of the board to submit names of board members derelict in their duties and allow the governor to remove them and replace with new members. He’s calling for a change to mandatory release votes by the board from a majority of four members to a larger majority of five members of the seven member panel.

Hutchinson’s plan also would allow the Parole Board to deny parole to anyone eligible, regardless of the sentence, if 5 members determine the release would be "a detriment to the community into which the person would be released."

With roughly $100 million in tax cuts already signed into law, critics have suggested that the money could have been used to deal with the $64 million public safety crisis. Hutchinson said it’s a matter of priorities.

"You’ve got to balance all of those," the governor said. "The most important thing is that we grow our economy, create more jobs. And when you have a growing economy, you’re going to have funds for public safety, for paying teachers, for building highways. That’s been the plan all along. You’d be pretty short-sighted in my judgment if we set aside a tax cut that grows our economy in order to put it in short-term spending for some of these solutions. You’ve got to balance those out. I think we’ve done that in our budget."

Watch Hutchinson’s full Talk Business & Politics interview below.