Arkansas is facing the problem of a projected 2,500 new prison inmates for a corrections system that already strains capacity by more than 1,000, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Every dollar spent on inmates, state officials and corrections experts say, takes money away from students. Arkansas’ prison growth is expected to eclipse the national average of 13 percent, says a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. That rate dwarfs traditionally fast-growing prison systems in Texas and Mississippi, both forecast to grow less than half as fast as Arkansas'.
Drug addicts account for more than one in five prisoners in Arkansas. The state has hired about 100 parole officers, increased funding for drug treatment and mental health counseling, focused on early intervention and revised its parole system. Concentrating on tackling prison growth isn't an easy sell for politicians afraid of appearing soft on crime, said state State Rep. Mike Lawlor of Connecticut, but it pays dividends. Connecticut is different from Arkansas, said Benny Magness, chairman of the Arkansas Board of Corrections. “A lot of our growth can be attributed to meth,” he said. “Some of the New England states haven't seen meth like we have.”