Problem: Arkansas’s prison population doubled during the past 20 years, driving corrections costs up more than 800 percent. At the same time, recidivism and crime rates remained stubbornly high. Without action, the prison population would have grown by as much as 43 percent and cost Arkansas taxpayers an additional $1.1 billion over the next decade.
Findings: An extensive review of data revealed that the state was underutilizing probation, increasing sentence lengths for non-violent offenses, departing substantially from the voluntary sentencing guidelines and delaying transfer of inmates to parole.
Reforms: A bipartisan, inter-branch working group, with technical assistance from the Pew Center on the States and its partners, issued recommendations to protect public safety and reduce recidivism by strengthening community supervision; improve government efficiency through data collection and performance measurement; and contain corrections costs by concentrating prison space on violent and career criminals. The Public Safety Improvement Act passed both chambers of the General Assembly with overwhelming bipartisan majorities and was signed into law by Governor Beebe in March 2011.
Impact: The new law is projected to save Arkansas $875 million in averted prison construction and operation costs through 2020. It will improve public safety by investing a portion of the savings in community-based supervision, sanctions and services as well as other practices proven to reduce recidivism.