John Lyon at the Arkansas News Bureau e
xamines another of Sen. Tom Cotton's
one-man Senate roadblocks — this one to a juvenile justice reform bill.
He wants to preserve the ability for judges to put juveniles in jail for skipping school or running away from home. Many experts in the field think this is wrong-headed. Lyon notes that 24 states have prohibited the option for judges to incarcerate young people for minor juvenile infractions.
“Brain science, a lot of research, has shown that locking up youth is very detrimental to their development,” said Cheri Ely, the council’s juvenile justice program director. “There are a lot better ways to address their offenses and make amends to the community. It’s very hurtful to take juveniles away from their families.”
Bill Kopsky, executive director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, said jailing juveniles for minor offenses drives up incarceration costs, contributes to jail overcrowding, makes it harder to find space for serious offenders and increases the likelihood that the juveniles will commit other offenses in the future.
“It’s as though we’re taking kids who aren’t criminals and converting them to it,” he said.
Do you get the idea Tom Cotton's report card had a check mark on the box "does not play well with others?"
Cotton didn't talk to Lyon. As is typical — because who knows what other questions might be asked if Cotton were made available to reporters other than right-wing shills — his spokesman responded. She said, hey, Arkansas legislators chose to retain the jail option when it passed justice legislation last year. Congress shouldn't second-guess the states. By that theory, black people still might not have the vote in Dixie. Fortunately, better spirits have sometimes prevailed in Washington than in the states. But that was before Tom Cotton.
Lyon notes that Sebastian County is the runaway winner in instances of jailing youths for status offenses with 145 in 2014. Second place was Jefferson County, with 36.
Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, the Judiciary Committee chair, said he wants to preserve the jail option but says he might favor legislation that would make judges use it more sparingly.
Arkansas, I'd note, is a leader, too, in the use of corporal punishment in schools.