by Max Brantley
Attorney General Eric Holder singled out Arkansas for praise in speech about changing federal drug sentencing guidelines to reduce prison population.
The attorney general said, “In Texas, investments in drug treatment for nonviolent offenders and changes to parole policies brought about a reduction in the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates last year alone. The same year, similar efforts helped Arkansas reduce its prison population by more than 1,400…Let me be clear: these measures have not compromised public safety.”
Arkansas's efforts to reduce prison population by alternative sentencing and new focus on rehabilitation for low-level drug offenders have not been lauded of late. Problems in the probation and parole system — particularly the freedom of a parolee who'd been failing to report to his parole officer and has now been charged with murder — has just about every aspect of the system under attack. Bail. Parole. Probation. Even the drug sentencing modifications, though they haven't yet been blamed for any murders.
Legislators want to be tough on crime and hold down costs. It's hard to do both, Hardy notes — unless, of course, the state continues to be serious about using less expensive things than prison for low-level offenders. There is this difference between the states and federal prisons. Federal prisons hold a much larger percentage of inmates held strictly on drug crimes, about 50 percent. In Arkansas, about a third of state prison inmates are serving drug-related sentences.
Eric Holder is, of course, just about as popular in Arkansas as his boss from Kenya.