LITTLE ROCK — The ACLU of Arkansas today released a report outlining a series of reforms to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the state by half by 2025, reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and reinvest those dollars in making communities stronger and safer. The report comes as the organization is condemning the state’s approval of a 20-year contract with a private prison company to operate a facility in southeast Arkansas. 

The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice systems and cut incarceration in half.

“Arkansas has the shameful distinction of having the fastest growing prison population in the country – draining money from other priorities and failing to make our communities safer,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas legal director and interim executive director. “Arkansas cannot afford to continue on this harmful trajectory. This blueprint details the commonsense reforms that are necessary to transform our criminal justice system from a runaway mass incarceration machine into an engine of positive change.”

Among the findings of the report: 
●    Arkansas spent $433 million of its general fund on corrections in 2017. These costs increased by 445 percent between 1985 and 2017. 
●    Between 2008 and 2018, the average amount of time served by people released from prison increased by approximately 79 percent.
●    Despite accounting for only 15 percent of the state’s adult population, Black people accounted for 42 percent of the prison population in 2017. 
●    In 2018, 19 percent of Arkansas prison admissions were due to a technical violation of community supervision.
●    In 2015, 4,948 people were being held pretrial in an Arkansas county jail and had not been convicted of a crime.

“The ACLU’s blueprint bolsters the case for commonsense reforms that will make our communities stronger and safer,” said Zachary Crow, director of decARcerate, a grassroots coalition working to end mass incarceration in Arkansas through education, smart legislation, and community action. “Mass incarceration is a lose-lose proposition: wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and inflicting profound trauma on families across the state. From ending the criminalization of poverty to reforming extreme sentencing laws, the ACLU’s Smart Justice Blueprint lays out a clear path toward a system that respects human dignity and makes all our communities safer, healthier and stronger.” 

The recommendations include: 
●    Expanding alternatives to incarceration, improving community supervision, and prohibiting incarceration for technical violations. 
●    Expanding mental health and addiction treatment. 
●    Decriminalizing crimes like marijuana possession and loitering. 
●    Eliminating cash bail and significantly reducing rates of pretrial detention. 
●    Immediately funding the public defense system at an adequate level. 
●    Ending the practice of jailing people or suspending their drivers’ license for failing to pay court fines and fees. 
●    Implementing juvenile justice reform including prohibiting the imprisonment of children in most – if not all – cases. 
●    Investing in robust re-entry services like Restore Hope Arkansas to help formerly incarcerated people return to their communities. 
●    Reducing the amount of time people serve in prison by reforming extreme sentencing laws, expanding the availability of earned time release credits, and expanding access to compassionate release.
●    Reducing racial disparities with systemic reforms to combat racially-biased policing, and ensure implicit-bias training to justice stakeholders.
●    Collecting more data on the criminal justice system and all stakeholders in that system and ensuring transparency in its collection process. 

The Arkansas report can be found here:

The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices. 

The blueprint includes an overview of Arkansas’ incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long. 

“Mass incarceration is a nationwide problem, but one that is rooted in the states and must be fixed by the states,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations. Some of the reforms contained in the blueprints are readily achievable, while others are going to require audacious change. But all are needed to prioritize people over prisons.” 

The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here:

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. We are working in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, and in the streets to end mass incarceration.

For more information about the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice: