Arkansas’s jail population grew more than all but one other state between 2006 and 2013 in terms of percentage. Among those in jails are a disproportionally high number of people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, and throughout the correction system, there is a dearth of treatment programs. Meanwhile, the state Parole Board is keeping more and more inmates in prison beyond the date they are eligible for parole.
These are among the takeaways from a new report from Justice Reinvestment in Arkansas, a project of the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center, which made its sixth presentation to the state Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend and from what I’ve seen no other media covered the meeting.
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The Parole Board has wide discretion to deny parole primarily for offenders who are in prison for crimes considered violent or sexual in nature. The board has limited ability to deny parole to those who’ve committed drug, property and other less serious crimes.
The presentation notes that a number of generally conservative states — Alabama, West Virginia and Kansas — have invested recently in expanding behavioral health services to offenders under some form of state supervision. Will Arkansas step up?
There are at least two more meetings of the task force before it makes its recommendations for changes in the justice system.