Lawmakers Want Transparency, Accountability In Criminal Justice Reform

Mar 1, 2015

Sen. David Sanders discussing prisons on this week's edition of Talk Business & Politics.
Credit Talk Business & Politics

With state lawmakers gearing up for a continuation of their debate over changes to the state’s prison system, sentencing guidelines, and parole and probation protocol, there is a push for more transparency to the convoluted and complicated process of criminal justice.

Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, which airs Monday evening at 6:06 on KUAR, Sens. David Sanders and Jeremy Hutchinson and Rep. John Vines discussed what they see as problems and potential solutions to the challenge.

“I think it’s simple,” said Sen. Sanders, R-Little Rock, regarding the prison overcrowding situation in 2015. “One, if you look back historically at population growth in the state of Arkansas and the fact that we went through a large passage of time where we didn’t build any new facilities.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package that includes regional jail facilities, substance and mental health treatment for parolees, more probation officers, specialty courts and reforms to the state parole board.

Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, nephew of the governor and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed with Sanders, but he added that he believes the state’s probation and parole systems “have failed.”

“Instead of people entering the system, then exiting the system at some point in time, they’ve continued to just recycle within that system,” said Hutchinson, one of the co-sponsors of the governor’s lead legislation. “I don’t think our prosecutors are overcharging. I don’t think our judges are oversentencing.”

Rep. Vines, D-Hot Springs, said that changes made two sessions ago through legislation known as Act 570 – a sentencing reform proposal – may have exacerbated prison overcrowding.

“It may have added to the backup problem, if you will,” said Vines, who said there is little opposition to Gov. Hutchinson’s proposal in the House.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the journey, I think it’s the beginning,” Vines added of the reform proposals being discussed in the 90th General Assembly.

Sanders is charging forward with additional legislation such as SB 617. The bill would create a public web site and require disclosure of criminals’ disciplinary records in prison and their risk assessment scores, which are calculated to determine possible paroles.

“We can do a lot of things, but unless you have transparency in the system, there can be no accountability for those who are charged with running it,” he said.

Watch the full roundtable discussion in the video below.