Not everyone is in love with the criminal justice reform proposal announced by Gov. Asa Hutchinson today.
Judge Wendell Griffen, a vocal advocate for reducing incarceration rates, and Citizens First Congress, a grassroots community organization, both point out that most of the $64 million the governor is proposing to put towards reform will go to expanding jail space (or renting beds in neighboring states).
Only $14 million out of that total will be devoted to parole, reentry and sentencing reforms, a figure that Citizens First Congress says “falls far short of the cost to fix our system.”
“The Department of Community Correction says it needs nearly $45 million dollars to fully staff its probation and parole system,” said the group in a statement. “The Governor’s plan takes the first step, but doesn’t come anywhere close to the state’s need. The governor’s plan is punting the problem down the road, overemphasizing incarceration while leaving safer, longer term and less expensive solutions massively underfunded.”
Judge Griffen, who earlier this week called for the governor to grant clemency to nonviolent offenders, has even harsher words for Hutchinson’s proposal to create 790 new prison beds. He believes that there can be no reform without a wholesale change in drug policy and proactive approach to stopping mass incarceration:
We should not be impressed
In the first place, the proposal is based on the ridiculous and oppressive notion that we should incarcerate even more people than we do already. Otherwise, Governor Hutchinson would not propose to create more prison space.
Nowhere in the proposal can one find any hint that Governor Hutchinson understands how the “war on drugs” contributed to mass incarceration. Nothing in his proposal hints that his administration intends to abandon the “war on drugs.” “Alternative sentencing” for non-violent offenders means continuing to label people criminals who are non-violent but who violate existing draconian drug possession laws.
Nowhere does Governor Hutchinson’s proposal address the relationship between education, poverty, health, and incarceration. Rather, the proposal fails to recognize how educational deficits, lack of employment opportunities, and mental health issues affect the potential for people to continue to become mass incarceration victims.