Arkansas has the fastest growing prison population in the country, and right now the number of people who are incarcerated is equal to the population of Maumelle (19,000).
We spend more than half a billion dollars each year on the prison system, which disproportionately affects communities of color, the poor and people with mental illnesses.
This hyper incarceration crisis is the result of criminal justice system practices and policies. These policies also create harsher treatment of people of color and the poor in all areas of the system throughout the state.
It is time for additional community activism, executive action and legislation that will correct and prevent these unfair impacts.
A growing coalition of organizations and individuals have joined together under the umbrella 'decARcerate' with a goal of uniting communities to end mass incarceration in Arkansas.
We need a reform system, not a punishment system.
Stand with us.
Ending mass incarceration and eliminating racial and social disparities in the Arkansas criminal punishment system that results in people of color, the poor, and people with mental illness being more harshly treated
Criminal Justice Reform Clinic, Inmate Justice Project, and Compassion Works for All
There is growing bipartisan support for eliminating the harsh sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences that play a part in the unprecedented overcrowding at Arkansas’ jails and prisons. Sentencing reform should place greatest emphasis on diversion programs, and on reducing recidivism, because these types of interventions have the highest return on investment for the state. By reducing sentences, and focusing on reentry and parole programs we can create safer communities at a lower cost.
Too many people are spending far too long in prison as a result of bad policy. Any sentencing reforms should also be applied retroactively, allowing people to return to society.
DIVERT PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Judicial Equality for Mental Illness
Jails have become de facto hospitals for persons with mental illness. Jails throughout Arkansas are overcrowded and contain a significant number of non-violent persons who have mental illness and who need treatment that these facilities are not equipped to provide.
A psychiatric episode is a health issue, and treatment is required, not jail. Police need to keep the public safe, rather than being asked to take care of someone in a health crisis. We can put a policeman right back on the street when the community provides a mental health crisis center for immediate treatment and assessment of a non-violent person in crisis.
Such centers have been proven to be less expensive, more humane, and a more productive use of taxpayer’s money. The Arkansas Public Policy Panel produced a 2015 report that shows crisis centers could provide better care while freeing up space in overcrowded prisons and saving the state close to $140 million each year.
ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY
Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
The death penalty wastes money, is applied arbitrarily, fails to deter crime and is out of step with modern thinking. Studies continually show race plays a major role in the application of the death penalty. 134 of the 195 people Arkansas has executed since keeping records were black males. In addition, people convicted of killing white victims are much more likely to receive the death penalty than those convicted of killing black victims.
The death penalty also targets lower-income offenders. Almost all the people on death row were too poor to afford their own attorneys at trial. These low-income defendants were appointed lawyers, some of whom were overworked, underpaid or lacked the necessary experience to handle death penalty cases.
Arkansas has not yet studied the costs associated with the death penalty, but other states have found capital punishment to be a costly government program that diverts millions of dollars from programs and agencies that protect the public and save lives.
ADDRESS RACIAL DISPARITIES
Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Research Project
Research shows that there are longstanding racial disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System.
Black inmates make up nearly 45 percent of the incarcerated population in Arkansas, but only about 16 percent of the state’s population. There is a direct relationship between race and type of convicted charge. There is a direct relationship between race and length of sentence. Blacks are more likely to receive the death penalty as well as to serve more severe and longer sentences.
This unacceptable situation is the direct result of policies which target marginalized communities and create disparate treatment and tougher sentences based on race or income.
We must require Racial Impact Statements for all future bills related to criminal punishment, and create a centralized collection of data by all law enforcement agencies to identify disparate treatment.
We should also require Implicit Racial Bias Training for law enforcement personnel including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and an abbreviated training for potential jurors. We must create Community Forums to provide open and honest dialogue with legislators, law enforcement and government personnel about the disparities in the criminal justice system and its impact on marginalized communities.
DECARCERATE'S WORKING COALITION PARTNERS INCLUDE:
Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Little Rock
Compassion Works for All, Little Rock
Criminal Justice Reform Clinic, Mayflower
Inmate Justice Project, Fayetteville
Judicial Equality for Mental Illness, Fayetteville
Each coalition partner is working on various legislation to improve community safety and inclusivity while reducing the prison population.
Get involved with decARcerate!
Like the decARcerate Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/decarcerateAR/
Sign up for our emails through the Facebook page
Talk to your friends and family about the problems with our criminal justice system. Whether you are moved by the financial impact, human impact or something else, let people know that this is a problem in our state. Arkansas does NOT want to be the incarceration capital of the world!
Contact Morgan Holladay for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org
PRISON REFORM REPORT SHOWS BETTER, CHEAPER WAY TO ADDRESS MENTAL HEALTH - Public Policy Watch (Fall 2015)