Arkansans Organizing 4 Justice

When I begin to pull my thoughts together to write today, I thought I would start with, HELLO I AM ________or my name is ________.    But you know, even more important than who I am, is what I am.   I am a citizen of the great state of Arkansas.  I am a working citizen of the great state of Arkansas.  I am a tax-paying, working citizen of the great state of AR.   As a working, tax-paying citizen of this great state, I am concerned about the astronomical amount of tax payer’s dollars being spent on building and maintaining prisons in AR under the guise of “correction and rehabilitation”. According to their annual report, “In FY 2010 the Arkansas Department of Correction experienced an increase in the monthly population growth in excess of the ten year average.”   Many of these inmates, roughly 20% are serving life, life without parole or what could be considered a “natural life” sentence due to the length of the term in years.  If the crime rate in AR has increased over the years; and apparently it has, then it stands to reason that the efforts to “correct and rehabilitate” have to increase also.  I am concerned that just building more and more prisons with no effective mechanism to “correct and rehabilitate” only serves as a warehouse of hopelessness with no incentive for change.   It is time to truly focus on “correction and rehabilitation” with the same tenacity we focus on punishment.   True, not everyone can be rehabilitated and returned to our communities safely, but what about the ones that can?  What about the ones who truly are rehabilitated and are now just occupying space (and funds) for the sake of punishment?  And what about the thousands more who could be if more programs were available?   And yes, some of those are serving natural life or life sentences.  I am concerned that just locking up the bad guys and throwing away the key is not always the answer.  They cannot be left to just “correct and rehabilitate” themselves on their own; if they could, they would not be incarcerated in the first place.  Are we doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results? 

What if there was a “Stringent Multi-faceted Comprehensive” Correction and Rehabilitation Program instituted in every prison with the sole mission of “producing productive citizens---getting EVERYONE ready for release”.  The end stages of this program would be a phase similar to a work release program with most of the earnings going to restitution, victim assistance programs, programs for children of incarcerated parents, and even taxes.  Even those serving natural life and life sentences would participate in the program.   Successful completion would qualify inmates for a sentence reduction, prepare them for reintegration back into the community and provide a way for them to contribute to society while they are still incarcerated. 

As an Arkansas citizen, I am also concerned with the discrepancies in the sentencing guidelines.  I am concerned that a 24 year old first time offender, having no criminal record, can receive a 40 year prison sentence on a first offense.  While on the other hand; a repeat offender enters the prison system, get no effective rehabilitation, is released, and repeats the same cycle again and again.   Are we doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results?    

I am concerned that if someone is killed in the commission of a felony, all parties involved are charged with the murder regardless of their level of participation or their intent.  I am concerned that some of the charges qualifying for the 70% rule can be re-visited from the prospective of shorter sentences, but with more intense “correction and rehabilitation”.    LET’S NOT DO THE SAME THINGS OVER AND OVER AGAIN.  LET’S GET DIFFERENT RESULTS!