Republican Party messaging is so rigid it’s probably worth a note whenever one or another of the Stepford legislators strays from the party line.

So I note continued rear-guard opposition to recent Arkansas law changes intended to reduce prison expenses by diverting non-violent offenders to alternative handling. Here, Stephens Media reports on concerns by, among others, Reps. Nate Bell and David Sanders, about reduced sentences for drug offenders.

Just yesterday, the New York Times was noting the trend toward this sort of legislation in many conservative Southern states, often led by Republican leaders, including Texas, led by presidential hopeful Rick Perry.

Some early results have been dramatic. In 2007, Texas was facing a projected shortfall of about 17,000 inmate beds by 2012. But instead of building and operating new prison space, the State Legislature decided to steer nonviolent offenders into drug treatment and to expand re-entry programs designed to help recently released inmates avoid returning to custody.

As a result, the Texas prison system is now operating so far under its capacity that this month it is closing a 1,100-bed facility in Sugar Land — the first time in the state’s history that a prison has closed. Texas taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars, and the changes have coincided with the violent crime rate’s dipping to its lowest level in 30 years.

Over in Bell’s country in Mena they apparently still hold to the quaint notion that harsh prison sentences deter drug use. Yes, and prohibition quelled the desire for alcohol.