One of the most significant debates in the last legislative session involved reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. Lawmakers made comprehensive changes to sentencing guidelines and beefed up probation efforts in an effort to slow growth in prison costs.
Rob Moritz with our content partner, the Arkansas News Bureau, examines some of the more immediate changes that will take effect later this summer:
The new law is expected to cost about $9 million to implement by adding more probation and parole officers and expanding drug rehabilitation programs. Part of the funding, nearly $3 million, will come from a $10 hike — from $25 to $35 — in the monthly fee offenders on parole, probation or in alternative sentencing programs pay.
The Department of Community Correction currently has about 360 probation and parole officers handling an average of 110 cases each, Eberhard said. The additional funding will allow the department to add 49 probation and parole officers by July 1 to supervise offenders, meet with them regularly and go to their homes and places of employment to make sure they are staying out of trouble.
The department also will hire 21 new employees at the state’s five community correction centers. Those residential services officers will work at the minimum security residential treatment centers and help offenders in a variety of ways, including behavior modification.
But the long-term effect of these changes may take years to prove, if they are successful.
Within a few years, prison, along with probation and parole officials, should begin to see a drop in the recidivism rate. That will be a major bench mark because a new study by the Pew Center on States found that more than 44 percent of Arkansas prison inmates released in 2004 went back to prison within three years, giving the state one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation.
You can read more of Moritz’s report at this link.