Governor Beebe announced the recommendations of the Arkansas Working Group on Sentencing and Corrections, a panel that is working to find savings in one of the fastest growing parts of the state budget – prisons.
The state’s prison population has doubled in the past 20 years, and costs are rising even faster – from $45 million then to $349 million today. That will only get bigger as the state adds more than 100 people to the prison system each month.
The working group says its proposals would reduce the population by 3,200 inmates and save Arkansas taxpayers $875 million through 2020. Among the recommendations are concentrating prison space on violent and career criminals. Drug users would see more probation, and electronic supervision would increase.
The proposals were created in conjunction with the Pew Center on the States, which has helped other states reduce their expanding prison expenditures.
It seems like common sense stuff to me, but anything can be demagogued, and this no doubt will be. Law and order types, or just people wanting attention, will point out individual examples of supposedly nonviolent offenders on parole who committed violent crimes. I’m sure we’ll hear the name “Wayne Dumond.”
But there is only so much government we can afford. And we can’t afford to keep locking up more and more not exactly hardened criminals. Nor, frankly, should we want to.
Beebe was candid in his remarks, which I have posted on YouTube. Here’s what he had to say.
“This is a (pause) … People want honesty? People want transparency? People want their government not to lie to them? … This is the honest, laydown truth. You can like it or you can not like it, but it’s the truth. If you don’t like these solutions, you’d better have different ones because if you don’t, someone’s going to have one for you. I’m not taking any money away from education to pay for this prison stuff. I’m not kicking anybody out of a nursing home with my vote to pay for this stuff. All this rhetoric, well we’ve got fraud and abuse and we can save money. You bet. If you show it to me, we’ll save it. You find me some fraud, let’s arrest them. You want to save $100 million with abuse, show it to me where it is, let’s take it and put it wherever it needs to be. But let’s be honest and be specific.”
Beebe expressed confidence that this package, or something along its lines, would pass.
The full report can be viewed here.