Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Praise for start on improving justice system, but ....

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2016 at 12:36 PM

A grassroots group working toward a justice system with more emphasis on rehabilitation and less on imprisonment has praised the first report to a task force working on criminal justice reform. But it says the first recommendations didn't go far enough.

A Justice Center report last week to the Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force supported the belief that Arkansas's prison population is too large, but doesn't improve public safety or help rehabilitation.

DecARcerate, which is working to organize people to reduce incarceration, said it endorsed the recommendations to put a priority for rehabilitation over punishment and to invest more in crime prevention and treatment than in new prisons and jails. But, the group said the recommendations don't go far enough.

For example, there is no mention of trauma treatment or services, when “social scientists have known for twenty plus years that substance abuse and incarceration are often symptoms of adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Many studies indicate that people in prison have exceptionally high rates of histories of childhood abuse and neglect, which is seldom addressed in the Arkansas Department of Correction or Community Correction,” said Morgan Holladay, Executive Director of Compassion Works for All.

In fact, these recommendations leave out the deep-seated causes of over-incarceration, which include poverty and systemic racism. “Race and socioeconomic status play a role in who we incarcerate in this state,” said Malik Saafir, project consultant of racial disparities study. This was demonstrated in Arkansas by the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project in 2015.

The same legislators being asked for change things passed the 2015 law that  led to a dramatic increase in prison population, noted Jean Thrash, Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic.

A substantial financial investment in treatment and other alternatives must be made to change things. Otherwise, the group said, prison costs will grow to a billion-dollar price tag in a few years.

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