Task Force Considers Prison Sentencing In Arkansas, Looks To Reduce Cost

Feb 17, 2016

The Justice Center's Andy Barbee makes a presentation on sentencing data to the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR

With the fastest growing prison population in the nation at nearly 17,943 inmates, Arkansas officials are looking at ways to bring down rising costs.

Speaking to the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force Wednesday, Andy Burbee with the Justice Center research group said corrections currently cost the state half a billion dollars a year. He projected that figure would rise to $1.3 billion in a decade if population growth continues.

The group is looking for ways to improve supervision of parolees and to help Arkansas invest in effective programs to counter recidivism.

"Maybe it's additional case workers. Maybe it's providing funding treatment in the community," said Barbee.

"Any dollars saved by helping a state chart a course to less reliance on prisons, those are dollars that need to be reinvested."

The Justice Center also encouraged lawmakers to reconsider how the state sentences most of its non-violent offenders. The group found that 78 percent of prison sentences are given for property and drug crimes. Arkansas is one of the few states with sentencing guidelines that aren’t mandatory in all instances. According to Barbee, at a low estimate, it spends over $7 million a year imprisoning individuals with crimes that legally don’t require imprisonment.

Task force members noted the effect of 2013 legislation passed to reduce sentences in Arkansas may not be apparent in the data analyzed by the group.