SENATE BACKS BILL on nonviolent offenders.
Legislation aimed at reducing Arkansas’ swollen prison population by giving more breaks to some nonviolent offenders passed the Senate on Monday.
The Senate voted 27-4 to send Senate Bill 136 by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, to the House for further consideration.
Hutchinson said the bill is the result of two years of work with various state and local officials.
The legislation would allow people on parole and probation to be sanctioned to county jails or community correction facilities up to six times for minor offenses before they could be sent to prison on a full revocation. Up to two of those sanctions could be to a community correction facility to receive treatment for no less than 45 days.
Prosecutors, who are officially neutral about the bill, have expressed concerns that the policy takes away their authority to revoke probation. However, Hutchinson — often describing such offenders as “knuckleheads” — said prisons had to release more dangerous inmates to take in revocations.
The legislation also would create three crisis intervention centers for nonviolent offenders who are mentally ill. The funding for the centers comes from Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposed budget, which also includes funding for other recommendations from the Legislative Criminal Justice Task Force, such as training for police on how to better interact with the mentally ill.
Sen. Hutchinson, who is the governor’s nephew, chaired the task force. He also sits atop the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved SB136 last week after weeks of tinkering to satisfy groups such as sheriffs and prosecutors.
Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, told senators that the nonviolent parole and probation violators who would be subject to the temporary sanctions include people convicted of possessing child pornography and Internet stalking of a child.
But Sen. Hutchinson said that’s inaccurate.
“We are talking about [people convicted of] misdemeanors” such as writing a hot check, he said. “We have no teeth with probation and parole. This gives us teeth without building 10 more prisons.”
Limiting the revocations could free up as many as 1,650 beds in the state’s prison system in the coming years, according to the task force’s report.