SE­NATE BACKS BILL on non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ AND MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

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.

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