Arkansas's incarceration crisis | Arkansas Blog

Arkansas's incarceration crisis


Matt Campbell's Blue Hog Report has a piercing look at  the state's "incarceration crisis" — the unabated rise in prison population despite a declining crime rate and scant population growth.

Lindsey Millar wrote a cover story for the Times about this recently.

With Gov. Asa Hutchinson asking for more and more money to operate more and more prison beds on a state budget too frozen to adequately process health insurance for working poor and pinched by tax cuts for wealthy people, the story needs to be retold and retold.

At Blue Hog, the assessment is by Omavi Shukur, a Little Rock native and director of Seeds of Liberation, a nonprofit working to create a fairer criminal justice system.

Shukur writes of an inmate he visited who died recently and the rampant discrimination in the justice system:

Mr. Henderson is just one of the thousands of casualties of the Arkansas Incarceration Crisis. We are setting record highs in our incarcerated population nearly every month of 2015. In 2013, there was an average daily prison population of 14,780 people, with 391 in jail awaiting transport to prison. Fast forward to May 2015, where we see a record high 18,839 people in Arkansas’ prisons, with an additional 2,770 people in county jails waiting to be transported to prison. Despite a downward trend in crime from 2013 to present, we have 6,438 more people in prison or waiting to be transported to prison.

Notably, most of the newly incarcerated people are there for petty crimes and low-level felonies. For example, only ninety people were incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes in 2011, compared to over 3,000 people in 2014. Contrary to popular belief, this is not just a Black issue, because the overwhelming majority of the 3,000 people imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes in 2014 were White (over 2,500).

Let there be no mistake about it: Blacks are over-represented in nearly every aspect of Arkansas’ criminal justice system. Blacks are 44% of the prison population, despite constituting only 16% of the state population. According the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there is no statistical difference in drug use between Blacks and Whites. However Black males, who make up 35% of Little Rock’s male population, represented 80% of Little Rock’s drug arrests in 2013.

Arkansas’ women are particularly vulnerable to this incarceration surge as well. There was a 47% increase in newly incarcerated women in 2014, compared to a 14% increase in newly incarcerated men. Worse still, this disparate impact on women is happening at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into allegations of rampant sexual abuse in McPherson Women’s Correctional Facility.

How does this happen? Misguided public policy is how. Read Shukur for his take on the architects. They include Sen. David Sanders, Gov. Hutchinson, his nephew, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson and policies  that —  though they sound modestly enlightened on the surface — are producing the opposite results.

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