A statewide coalition of organizations working for criminal justice reform is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to improve the pre-trial detention and release process in the state, which it says unjustly penalizes individuals for being poor or mentally ill.
DecARcerate, which describes itself as “an informal statewide coalition seeking improvements to our criminal justice system,” said in a letter to Chief Justice Howard Brill that district and circuit judges routinely set monetary bail bonds “without due consideration being given to an individual’s financial ability to pay.” Keeping people in county jails who are not a flight risk only because they’re unable to post bail is erodes the presumption of innocence and is “creating a debtor prison in Arkansas,” the letter states.
DecARcerate is asking the court to take two specific actions:
1. To give an immediate reminder to district and circuit judges of the express provisions of the applicable rules, which mandate the consideration of alternative conditions of release, before opting to set a bail bond; and
2. To form a working group of all relevant stakeholders to develop long-term, comprehensive reforms within a stated time frame.
Though decARcerate focuses on the human cost of overly punitive pre-trial detention practices, there’s also the fact that Arkansas’s county jails are overcrowded and overextended.