As in many states, the prison population in Arkansas has skyrocketed in recent decades.
While the average U.S. state imprisonment rate dropped by 8 percent between 2000 and 2017, Arkansas’ rate of imprisonment increased by 35 percent over the same period. Between 2012 and 2017, Arkansas had the fastest-growing state prison population in the nation. As of June 2018, there were 17,972 people imprisoned in the state. In addition to Arkansas’s prison population, there are roughly 7,562 people being held in county jails across the state, according to the most recently available data (2015).
While many different offenses drive people into prison in Arkansas, a primary driver of prison admissions is the large number of people who enter prison from community supervision due to either a technical violation of supervision, including failure to pay fees or fines, or committing a new crime. In 2018, this group comprised 45 percent of prison admissions in Arkansas.
Recognizing the unsustainable growth in the state’s prison population, Arkansas lawmakers have twice passed Justice Reinvestment legislation — first in 2011, and again in 2017. In spite of these steps forward, in 2018 the state prison population was expected to increase by 9 percent between 2018 and 2028.
Incarceration in Arkansas disproportionately impacts Black people. Despite accounting for only 15 percent of the state’s adult population, Black Arkansans accounted for 42 percent of the prison population in 2017, and an estimated 1 in 45 Black men in Arkansas was imprisoned that year. And as the overall prison population in Arkansas continues to grow, the number of incarcerated women is growing even faster. Between 2000 and 2017, the number of women in Arkansas prisons increased by 84 percent, while the number of men in Arkansas prisons increased by 50 percent.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Arkansas can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
For more information, along with a detailed breakdown of Arkansas’ prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.
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