Judge Asks Governor To Oppose Plans For New Arkansas Prison

Feb 12, 2014

Pulaski County Judge Wendell Griffen
Credit PBS

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen is asking Gov. Mike Beebe to oppose a recent decision by the Arkansas Board of Corrections to spend millions of dollars to plan for construction of a new prison. The 1,000 bed state prison itself is estimated to cost up to $85 million to build.

In a letter to the governor Wednesday, Judge Griffen blamed “misguided” policies of the war on drugs for leading to the imprisonment of people who are not a threat to society.

Most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity. Arrests for marijuana possession - a drug less harmful than tobacco or alcohol - accounted for nearly 80 percent of the drug arrests in the 1990s. The "War on Drugs" has resulted in longer prison sentences, fmanced private prison firms and related businesses, undermined trust in law enforcement (especially within communities populated by persons of color), and strained state and local government budgets. Arkansas does not have a prison overcrowding problem because of a dramatic increase in violent offenders. We have a prison overcrowding problem because of the "War on Drugs."

It is foolish to believe that cancer, AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases will be reduced and cured by building mortuaries and cemeteries and hiring funeral directors and grave diggers. The January 23 decision of the Board of Corrections represents similar folly. That is why I urge you to stop the Board's plans and impose a moratorium on new prison construction in Arkansas.

Griffen is asking Governor Beebe to impose a moratorium on new prison construction in Arkansas. He says money could be better spent helping treat people with addictions. He spoke with KUAR about his letter to the Governor during Wednesday afternoon’s All Things Considered. You can listen to the interview above.