Gov. Sanders signs two sentencing bills into law

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 3,589 views 

Flanked by law enforcement, Attorney General Tim Griffin, legislative supporters and cabinet officials at the Arkansas State Police headquarters, Gov. Sarah Sanders on Tuesday (April 11) signed two bills into law as part of her criminal justice reform package.

The first bill signed was SB495, the Protect Arkansas Act, which restructures sentencing for violent criminals. It was ushered through the legislature by sponsors Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould.

The 132-page bill would require offenders convicted of crimes including murder, rape, human trafficking and child sex abuse to serve 100% of their sentences. That arrangement would go into effect Jan. 1, 2024. Those convicted of lesser violent crimes would serve at least 85% of their sentences starting in 2025. The extra year would give the state time to address prison capacity issues.

An offender who commits a new felony while released on parole would serve the remainder of their sentence plus a penalty. It also creates incentives for good behavior and achieving education and workforce training milestones through a new program of “earned release credits,” which can reduce prison sentences by up to 15%.

Not included in the bill, but part of the governor’s crime package, is a 3,000-bed prison that she initially estimated would cost $470 million to build. The legislature approved $330 million in one-time funding from surplus funds for new state prison construction during the session.

The 3,000 new beds would be needed to handle prisoners serving longer time behind bars and would reduce the number of state inmates being housed in county jails because state prisons are currently overcrowded. It will come with an estimated $31 million annual operating cost.

An additional $20 million was allocated by lawmakers to recruit and retain correctional officers, to create a new school for state troopers, and provide $5 million for additional overtime pay.

Gov. Sanders’ second bill to sign was HB1456, the Fentanyl Enforcement and Accountability Act. It creates a punishable crime of “aggravated death by delivery” if a person knowingly delivers or conveys fentanyl to another person and it causes death. A person convicted could serve 25 to 60 years, or life, in prison and face a fine of $1,000,000.

The law also creates an offense called “predatory marketing of fentanyl” if given to minors. If convicted, this crime would lead to a term of life imprisonment and a fine of $1,000,000.