Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Crime and punishment on legislative agenda this morning

Posted By on Tue, Dec 2, 2014 at 9:07 AM

Judiciary and state agencies legislative committees are meeting at the Capitol this morning on prison and parole topics, as well as a report on "tort reform" rules.

Among the material to be discussed is a report from the Arkansas Department of Community Correction. Off the top: They need more parole officers to reduce the existing caseload — 71 more the first year and eventually hitting 200. The costs will rise $4 to $5 million a year. There's also a discussion of a better system for integrating released prisoners back into the community, beginning with "reentry centers" with eventually beds for 4,000 people preparing to re-enter the free world. It will have costs, obviously. Also costly would be a recommendation to increase mental health and substance abuse services. A tax credit program for businesses that hire prior offenders would have a cost in lost revenue.

Locking all violators up and throwing away the key costs even more, though many Arkansas communities see a new state prison as a welcome economic engine. If you can't be Silicon Valley, why not Convict Valley? (In the view of Community Correction, its ideas would save money by moving prisoners from high-cost prisons to lower-cost community "reentry" facilities.) This would be so only if arrest rates and sentencing mandates don't keep demand for prison beds high.

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