Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arkansas Turns to Pew for Help with Prison Overcrowding

Over the past two decades, stiffer sentences, particularly for drug-related crimes, and few alternatives have combined to swell Arkansas' inmate population well past capacity at state prison units and strain the state’s ability to pay local governments to temporarily house the overflow of state prisoners in county jails, according to the Arkansas News.

The Pew Center reports Arkansas’ prison population has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and in 2009 alone the number of inmates grew 3.1 percent, the eighth largest percentage increase nationwide in a state with fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s population.

The cost of housing inmates has skyrocketed from about $45 million annually 20 years ago to about $349 million a year.

Arkansas has turned to the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project for help with these issues. Pew has assisted a dozen other states, including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas, in addressing similar problems.

Jake Horowitz, who is manager of the project for the Pew Center, told the Arkansas News, those states have implemented a variety of the reforms in recent years.

In Arizona and Kansas, he said, the number of new convictions have been reduced, as have the number of probation revocations. Texas also has seen it’s prison population growth stabilized.

In Texas, the state’s prison population growth has been curbed because the Legislature invested more money in alternative sentencing and residential treatment programs, Horowitz told the News.

Some of the reforms implemented include investing more money into alternative sentencing and residential treatment programs, diverting low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison, strengthening community supervision and re-entry programs and accelerating the release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs, Horowitz told the News.

State Senator Jim Luker told the News that the Pew Center’s help has been invaluable. “There are some evidence-based measures that have been utilized in other states that have had positive results and improved public safety by reducing recidivism and reducing the number of incidents being committed and at the same time have saved substantial sums of money in avoiding the necessity of building ever increasing number of prison beds,” Luker said.

To read more: http://arkansasnews.com/2010/12/19/panel-studying-ways-to-address-rising-prison-population/

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