Drug courts and other prison diversion programs are helping both to ease prison overcrowding and save Arkansas money, corrections officials told legislators yesterday, says the Arkansas News Bureau. The state ended 2005 with 132 fewer prisoners than a year earlier, which department spokeswoman Dina Tyler attributed to programs designed to keep nonviolent offenders out of jails. “We don’t get to do that very often, to come in here and tell you that we have actually shrunk,” she said.
One of the more successful of the diversion programs is drug court. State judges estimated about 800 offenders would be in a county jail or prison if they were not enrolled in drug courts, which offer first-time drug offenders a reprieve from prison if they report regularly to the court and undergo frequent drug testing. Housing those 796 offenders in the state prison system would cost the state total of $35,583 per day. The daily cost for all drug court participants is $8,970. One legislator said the prison population decline may be due to the state prison board’s releasing hundreds of prisoners early to ease overcrowding.