Arkansas's prison dilemma — punishment isn't cheap | Arkansas Blog

Friday, January 31, 2014

Arkansas's prison dilemma — punishment isn't cheap

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 7:04 AM

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Benji Hardy has another thoughtful post on his blog at Legislative Digest.

It's about how much money Arkansas could by participating in a federal initiative to slow down state prison population growth. An Urban Institute estimates the savings over 11 years, between 2009 and 2020 at $875 million.

Here comes the but …..

The projection for lower-than-expected growth, already taking place, was in part based on a 2011 parole reform act that legislators now are threatening to unravel because of some high-profile crimes involving parolees (though not, in the most famous murder case, a parolee released because of the now-controversial Act 570.) Writes Hardy:

But that was before last summer, when changes to parole revocation rules made in response to a high-profile murder created a surge in prisoners that now threatens to undo the gains outlined in the report. Arkansas’ incarcerated population is currently larger than it’s ever been before and county jails are overflowing with “back-up inmates” from the understaffed prison system. The Urban Institute report mentions the state’s backlog of prison inmates held in county jails fell from 2,000 in 2010 to about 300 by fall of 2012, thanks to Act 570′s reform. But by November of 2013, state Corrections officials reported the backlog had shot back up to 2,315, well above the 2010 figure. As for savings — the Governor’s FY 2015 budget now calls for an additional $12 million to reimburse those county jails and to build a new prison to address the backlog. This new spending comes close to erasing the fiscal gains engendered by Act 570, at least in the short term. (The report makes a nod to these new reversals in passing but says it is “unclear whether this spike will be temporary or have long-term effects.”)

Note again this significant factor in balancing state finances by a legislature intent on cutting taxes and fighting the dread Obamacare, with its millions in windfall of federal Medicaid money.

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