- Arkansas passed Senate Bill 136, enacted as Act 423 in March 2017, which enacted recommendations made by the Arkansas Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force. 1 The legislation is expected to avert $288.5 million in projected prison operation and construction costs by 2023.2
- With technical assistance from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, the Task Force analyzed data to determine the drivers of growth in the state's prison population and associated costs and considered a number of policy options.
- Drivers of the state's prison growth included a substantial increase in the use of prison as a sanction for supervision violations; a significant number of prison sentences for people convicted of nonviolent offenses with little or no criminal history; and a lack of community-based treatment resources for individuals who are mentally ill and/or have substance use disorders.
- Task Force recommendations included a range of policy options that sought to focus supervision resources on higher risk individuals, increase the availability of community-based services, make changes to supervision sanctioning practices, improve data collection, and more.
- In addition, the Arkansas Board of Corrections and the Parole Board voted to formally adopt policy options recommended by the Task Force to improve supervision and parole-readiness release practices.
Following passage of JRI legislation in 2011, Arkansas made progress toward reducing its prison population. However, in June 2013, the Board of Corrections revised parole release and revocation policies in response to the arrest of a person on parole in Little Rock on murder charges. In the wake of those changes, parole revocations skyrocketed and the prison population sharply increased. As a result, Arkansas experienced a shift from the nation's second largest prison population decline between 2011 and 2012 to the largest increase between 2012 and 2013—growing 18 percent from 14,654 to 17,235.3 Absent policy changes, the prison population was projected to grow by another 23 percent by 2027.4
The increase in prison population prompted state leaders in Arkansas to recommit to JRI in 2015 to explore new strategies for addressing prison population growth while maintaining public safety.
The Arkansas Legislature created the Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force via Act 895 in July 2015 to monitor trends in the state's criminal justice system and to recommend improvements and associated cost savings.5 The Task Force was comprised of leaders from both parties, leadership from the Board of Corrections, the Department of Correction (ADC), Arkansas Community Correction (ACC), and the Arkansas Parole board, as well as representatives of the judiciary, and state and local stakeholders. When Arkansas leaders opted to pursue a justice reinvestment approach in the summer of 2015, the Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force was the natural choice to drive the process.
The Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force met on a monthly basis, and members reached out to multiple stakeholders to solicit information and work collaboratively to create effective reform. The Task Force met with leadership and staff of organizations and agencies from across the criminal justice spectrum, including ADC, ACC, Arkansas Judicial Council, Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Arkansas Sheriffs Association, Association of Arkansas Counties, and organizations representing victims of crime.
In 2016, the Task Force, with technical assistance from CSG, identified factors and practices that were driving the increase in Arkansas's prison population. Analysis showed that the primary contributors to prison population growth in Arkansas were a significant increase in revocations to prison among people on parole; the use of prison as a sanction for technical supervision violations for people on probation or parole; and a significant number of people convicted of nonviolent offenses with little or no criminal history being sentenced to prison.6 Analysis also identified a lack of community-based treatment services for people with behavioral health issues involved in the criminal justice system.
In October 2016, the Task Force proposed and voted on a set of policy recommendations, which were then sent to the legislature for consideration in December 2016. The Task Force recommended a range of policy options that addressed many of the identified drivers of prison population growth, including creating changes to the framework for supervision sanctioning, focusing supervision resources on those people with the most need, increasing the availability of community-based substance use treatment services, and improving collection of data to inform future decisions.7
Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Arkansas's justice reinvestment legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 136, into law as Act 423 in March 2017. The legislation codified many of the recommendations of the Task Force, including revising probation and parole violation sanctioning practices, requiring law enforcement training on crisis intervention techniques, and creating Crisis Stabilization Units that will divert people with mental health illnesses from county jails to receive treatment in their communities.8 Arkansas' 2017 budget included $5 million to establish and operate the Crisis Stabilization Units and train law enforcement in crisis intervention techniques. Monies that were previously allocated to ACC as one-time funding for 65 officer positions were made permanent, allowing the agency to maintain the positions.9 The legislation is expected to save more than 1,650 beds in ADC and will avert approximately $288 million.10
In 2010, the prison population in Arkansas was approximately 16,000, more than double the population in 1990. During this same period, the state's corrections budget rose from $45 million to more than $353 million.11 Without reform, the cost of building and operating new facilities to accommodate the growing prison population would have exceeded $1.1 billion by 2020.12 In response, former Governor Mike Beebe, together with the chief justice and leaders of the Arkansas legislature, joined JRI in November 2009 with technical assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Vera Institute of Justice (Vera). In March 2010, stakeholders formed the Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections.13 After analyzing corrections and sentencing data and consulting with an array of stakeholders, the Working Group identified the key drivers of growth in the prison population: substantial underutilization of probation (23 percent below the national average), increased sentence lengths for individuals committing nonviolent offenses, noncompliance with the state's voluntary sentencing guidelines, and unexplained delays in transfer to parole.14
In January 2011, the Working Group proposed policy recommendations and codified them into law through Act 570, which strengthened community supervision by requiring the use of evidence-based practices and risk assessments while supervising people under probation and parole; reallocated prison resources to the highest risk individuals; instituted performance-based funding to community corrections; and increased release to electronic monitoring for individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses.15 Act 570 was projected to avert $875 million in prison costs by reducing prison growth by 3,200 people by 2020.16 In 2012, Arkansas's prison population declined by 9 percent.17 The state's jail backlog declined and the state reinvested in evidence-based practices. However, these early successes were hindered after the high profile arrest of a person on parole in Little Rock on murder charges which led to sweeping policy changes by the Board of Corrections. Arkansas experienced growth in its prison population after this event and decided to apply for a second engagement of JRI to identify additional opportunities for reform.
- Arkansas's 2011 Public Safety Reform. The Center for the States. PDF
- Arkansas Department of Correction, Sentencing Commission, and Department of Community Correction Ten-Year Secure Population Projection: 2014 – 2024. PDFDF
- For a comprehensive list of resources, visit The Council of State Governments Justice Center's website.
Updated May 2017
Notes1 Communication with CSG Justice Center, March 2017.
2 Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force, 2016, "Report and Recommendations," Little Rock: Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force. PDF
3 Carson, E. Ann, 2014, "Prisoners in 2013," Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. PDF
4 Ware, Wendy and Ocker, Roger, 2014, "Ten-Year Adult Secure Population Projection 2014–2024," Washington, DC: JFA Associates, LLC. PDF
5 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2016, "Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas: Overview," New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center. PDF
6 Barbee, Andy, Gonzales, Jessica, and Shelor, Ben, 2016, "Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas: Policy Options and Projected Impacts For The Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force [PowerPoint Slides]." PDF
7 Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force (2016).
8 "Justice Reinvestment: Arkansas," The Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: https://csgjusticecenter.org/jr/ar/
10 Communication with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, May 2017.
11 The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011, "Arkansas's 2011 Public Safety Reform: Legislation to Reduce Recidivism and Curtail Prison Growth," Washington, DC: The Pew Center on the States. PDF
15 Information drawn from an unpublished PowerPoint presentation from The Pew Charitable Trusts, presented in December 2011.
16 Projection calculated by JFA Institute in Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections (2011).
17 Carson, E. Ann and Golinelli, Daniela, 2013, "Prisoners in 2012," Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. PDF