AR Criminal Justice Group Hopes To Cut Prison Crowding

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Proposals aimed at reducing crowding in Arkansas’ prisons and helping offenders with addictions and mental illnesses were backed yesterday by a group given the task more than a year ago of examining problems in the criminal-justice system, reports Arkansas Online. The Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force — a group of state lawmakers and officials representing police, prisons, and mental-health advocates — focused on limiting prison stays for parole and probation violators while using funds to hire more caseworkers and provide treatment for addicts and the mentally ill. The package doesn’t include new prison facilities.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center predicted the plan could offset costs from building and operating new prison facilities and save the state about $144 million over the next four years. Arkansas’ prison population grew faster than any other state between 2012 and 2014. There are 16,363 inmates now, surpassing the system’s 15,157-person capacity. The backlog of prisoners housed in county jails totals 1,368. While the proposals are projected to save the state the cost of building and maintaining a 1,200-bed lockup, they will not eliminate the need for new prisons, the justice center’s Andy Barbee said. The state’s inmate population is expected to increase to more than 20,000 by 2023 even if the legislature approves the proposed changes.

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