FULL UP: The Cummins prison unit.

  • FULL UP: The Cummins prison unit.

Good timing. I wrote the other day that something was wrong with a state justice system where emergency powers had been routinely invoked for 12 years to allow early release of state prison inmates, not to mention the chronic backup of state offenders in county jails.

The subject came up again when I spoke at Boys State this week. We have an exploding prison population and sentences have become meaningless in many categories. Some options seem obvious: Emphasize treatment, not jail, for drug offenders; pull back from mandatory sentencing lust, or raise a whole bunch more taxes to build more prisons and hire more guards.

Well. Governor Beebe announced today that a study will be done by a private nonprofit to find ideas to “curb the state’s unsustainable growth in prison population.” Its data gathering will be welcome, if nothing else. I have my own beliefs about what the war on drugs contributes to prison demand, but some solid numbers on incarceration for simple possession or relatively minor dealing to sustain one’s own habit would be useful.

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Here’s the Pew Center’s introductory report on the study.