Jared Henderson, the Democratic candidate for governor against incumbent Republican Asa Hutchinson, released ideas on criminal justice today. It leads with a 20 percent reduction in the prison population over eight
His plan isn’t just a cut-them-loose proposal, but talks of community-based sentences, re-entry programs and a greater effort to reduce drug addiction.
Said his release:
Mississippi and other states have had similar, successful efforts to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals by nearly 20% over the same time period, resulting in millions of dollars of savings and lower crime rates for those states.
“The fact is we cannot afford to not take these next steps. If Arkansas stays on the course Governor Hutchinson is taking us, we will have to build a new prison that will cost more than $600 million in the next 5 years,” Henderson added.
His ideas, from his prepared release, is sweeping. Many of the elements would have costs, too, in addition to facing significant political hurdles. Nonetheless:
GET SMART ON CRIME:
Reduce the number of incarcerated individuals in Arkansas by 20% over the next 8 years by addressing the root causes of recidivism and providing community-based sentencing alternatives. We can reduce recidivism by expanding drug treatment and reentry programs while reducing the practice of returning parolees and probationers to prison for technical violations.
Adequately staff parole and probation systems to guarantee the support and supervision reentering citizens need to get back on their feet and avoid recidivism. This is also fundamentally vital when addressing recidivism, as 91% of the increased rate of incarceration in Arkansas comes from individuals returning to prison.
Treat mental illness and addiction by expanding access to treatment centers and recovery programs and training law enforcement to detect mental illnesses early on. Meaningful investments in trauma-informed care are proven to reduce crime and incarceration rates.
Deprioritize drug possession where appropriate and look for other opportunities to keep non-violent offenders out of prison when they do not pose a public safety risk. Community-based corrections solutions keep non-serious offenders connected to family and employment and are much less costly to taxpayers.
Move toward a full-time, professional parole board comprised of individuals in criminal justice, mental health, and rehabilitation backgrounds.REMOVE WASTE AND PROMOTE EQUITY IN OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM:
Improve data collection and transparency on the effectiveness of programs within the criminal justice system beyond self-reporting methods. Currently, there is a lack of meaningful, consistent date reporting within the criminal justice system and too much reliance on self-reporting that can fail to determine the effectiveness of efforts or impacts on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Once we begin thorough, accurate data collection, we can truly begin informative decision-making.
Reform the cash-bail system to ensure that Arkansans are sent to jail only when they pose a threat to public safety, not because they are too poor to pay their way out. This reform is not only the right thing to do; it will also alleviate overcrowding in the jail system and deliver millions in savings to taxpayers.
Improve and expand reentry programs that use proven methods such as peer-to-peer counseling, programs for college and career readiness, providing a valid state-issued photo ID upon release, and ensure that every location provides a comprehensive explanation of resources in regards to employment, housing, supervision requirements, and community programs.
Implement public safety assessment to support judges in making bond determinations. Public Safety Assessments would look different than what is used now to determine whether or not someone will be released before trial including factors like income, race, gender, family status, or education levels. Instead, we need a system that determines a person’s risk of not appearing or committing another crime before trial based on the current offense, prior convictions and sentences for those convictions versus time served, prior failure to appears, and age.DEMAND CRIMINAL JUSTICE FOR WOMEN:
Support survivors of domestic violence by increasing the capacity and use of domestic violence centers and a space that offers access to police, prosecutors, counseling, advocates, and information on housing, financial literacy, and employment opportunities.
Prioritize rape kits and treat sexual crimes more seriously. Arkansas currently has over 2,000 untested rape kits, denying victims justice and leaving thousands of perpetrators on the streets.FIGHT FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE:
Combat the school-to-prison pipeline by limiting “zero-tolerance” policies that criminalize students for minor infractions, supporting the shift away from exclusionary discipline practices like suspensions, and investigating racial disparities in disciplinary actions.
Implement proven violence-reduction programs and avoid placing minors in residential juvenile detention centers whenever possible, in favor of community-based treatment. By connecting underserved youth with employment, educational, housing, mental health, and legal resources, we can interrupt generational cycles of crime and violence. These investments can stop crime before it happens and are often the most cost-effective criminal justice programs.