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I. CHECKS AND SCREENINGS
Studies show that when individuals who were formerly incarcerated have easier access to jobs—and thus fewer barriers to reentry—they are less likely to return to prison. But, in most cases, the state of Arkansas denies licensure for individuals with criminal records. Considering the fact that more than one-quarter of occupations in the United States require a state license, this is particularly alarming. While background checks may be justified in certain instances, they can often place an
undue burden on those who were once incarcerated and create collateral
consequences for returning citizens.
Occupations That Require Checks & Screenings
Other Notable Bills
Some of the most severe injustices of the criminal punishment system originate and are
carried out in court rooms. Most of the laws passed during the 92nd General Assembly related
to procedural changes in the courts. Significant judicial redistricting redrew judicial districts
and created additional judgeships.
Criminal Record Sealing
In Arkansas, more than 18,000 prisoners are often held in unsanitary conditions, denied proper medical and mental health care, held in solitary confinement, and forced to work without compensation. More than 38,000 others are on probation and parole. These systems of state control place burdensome restrictions on people, often making it difficult for them to succeed which contributes to funneling people back into jails and prisons.
Probation and Parole
IV. FINES, FEES, AND COURT COSTS
A study from 2011 estimates that tens of millions of Americans nationwide have been assessed fines or fees as a part of their punishment. Of course, that’s happening in Arkansas as well. As the state’s use of fines and fees increases, poor Arkansans are being disproportionately impacted and can be sent to jail on the sole basis of inability to pay their debt owed to courts. While these monetary penalties are an effort to support its budget—and keep up with the growth of the criminal injustice system—they create an unjust incentive for courts to collect as much money as possible, even if it means not properly considering a defendant’s ability to pay.
Over and over again, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the fact
that children are different than adults. Over the last several years, Arkansas has joined
other states across the nation in reevaluating its treatment of minors under the law.
Buoyed by the success of 2017’s Fair Sentencing of Minors Act (Act 539),
the most comprehensive reform efforts came on behalf of juveniles.
Act 189 (SB152): An Act To Improve Outcomes For Youth And Families Through The Transformation Of The Juvenile Justice System; And To Reform The Juvenile Justice System To Utilize Validated Risk Assessment Tools, Create A Plan For Diversion Options To Maximize The Benefits For Juvenile Offenders, And Develop A Plan For The Reinvestment Of Funds Into Community-Based Services
Sponsored by: Senators Irvin, B. Davis, and J. English; Representatives C. Fite, Barker, Bentley, Brown, Capp, Cavenaugh, Crawford, Dalby, Della Rosa, M. Gray, Lundstrum, J. Mayberry, Petty, Rushing, Speaks, and Vaught
This law requires that the Juvenile Judges Committee of the Arkansas Judicial Council, in
conjunction with the Division of Youth Services (DYS), select a validated risk assessment
system to be used by courts and DYS for commitment throughout the state. Diversion
agreements based on the validated assessment tool selected must also be implemented for
nonjudicial probation by all juveniles courts and ensure restitution payments to victims.
Courts may use only the validated risk assessment so selected and it must be applied to all
commitment decisions for all juvenile offenders.
If a juvenile who is adjudicated delinquent of only a misdemeanor offense is determined by
the assessment to be a low risk, a court is no longer allowed to commit them to DYS. But if
a juvenile is determined to be a moderate or high risk, they may be committed to the division
as long as the circuit court has made written findings considering: (1) the juvenile’s previous
history; (2) if the juvenile has been adjudicated delinquent, and if so, whether the offense was
against a person or property; (3) whether any other previous history of antisocial behavior or
patterns of physical violence exist; (4) whether the circuit court has previously offered the
juvenile less restrictive programs or services available to the court; (5) written reports and
other materials relating to the juvenile's mental, physical, educational, and social history; and
(6) any other factors deemed relevant by the circuit court.
The duties of DYS are also amended through this law. In addition to overseeing reform of
the state’s juvenile justice system, they now also include: (1) reviewing the quality and
consistency of reforms and reform proposals; (2) monitoring youth and family outcomes
related to reforms; (3) developing a reinvestment plan to redirect savings realized from
reductions in the number of secure out-of-home placements; and (4) developing a
collaborative information-sharing system among the Department of Human Services, the
Administrative Office of the Courts, and other stakeholders.
DYS must also provide individualized treatment and placement decisions with measurable
goals and regular reassessments, based on the results of an initial assessment and the risk
level assigned to the juvenile by the validated risk assessment used in the court’s commitment
Division of Youth Services (DYS)
Safety and Wellbeing
Other Notable Bills
VI. LAW ENFORCEMENT
All across the state, police corruption and excessive force persist. An increasingly militarized police force too often thinks of itself “at war” with the public, disproportionately affecting communities of color and the poor. This session saw a few positive changes, most notably as it relates to civil asset forfeiture, a process which allows police to seize and keep or sell any property they allege to be involved in a crime. Additionally, this session saw an expansion of police powers, and allowed public schools to institute their own private police forces.
VII. MODIFIED OFFENSES
A report compiled by The Arkansas Sentencing Commission counts eleven laws modifying or enhancing penalties for criminal offenses. These enhanced sentences will further exacerbate lengthy prison sentences and prison overcrowding in Arkansas.
Orders of Protection
Other Notable Bills
IX. SEX OFFENFERS
Individuals who commit criminal offenses of a sexual nature often face continued punishment and
post-correctional sanctions after they have served their sentences. These sanctions come with a vast array of collateral consequences including homelessness, emotional harm to family members, loss of employment, decreased support networks, and increased pressure from probation and parole officers. Additional restrictions placed on “sex offenders” make it more difficult to comply with probation and parole requirements and successfully reintegrate into society.
Act 587 (SB351): An Act To Amend The Law Concerning The Registration Requirements Of A Sex Offender; And For Other Purposes
Sponsored by: Senator A. Clark
This law changes the requirements for a sex offender, particularly in regards to adult-minor
relationships. If an individual who is no more than three years older than the other person
participates in consensual intercourse with that person, who is under eighteen, they no longer
have to register as an offender if the court determines that there was no evidence of force,
compulsion, threat or intimidation in the commission of the sexual offense.
Throughout history, Arkansas has done a poor job of collecting and synthesizing data in helpful and meaningful ways, especially when it comes to the criminal punishment system. For this reason, decARcerate attempted to pass HB1530, which would have required the Arkansas Department of Correction to collect data related to solitary confinement, as well as supported HB1788, which would have required the collection of data related to bail. In the 2019 Legislative Session, little was done to address this problem directly, and continued attacks against the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) only served to further limit government transparency and accountability.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Other Notable Bills
Act 519 (SB266): An Act Concerning The Dissemination Of A Person’s Criminal History Information; And For Other Purposes
Sponsored by: Senator Irvin
Under current law, only certain individuals (persons performing research related to the
administration of criminal justice, private contractors housing state inmates, and the Governor)
have access to a person’s criminal history information. Now, after the passing of this law,
noncriminal justice agencies are allowed to request this information from the director of the
Arkansas Crime Information Center, and it may be made available after a review and express
approval by the director if specific requirements are met as to the use and protection of the
Written by Sarah Pickering
Edited by Zachary Crow, Jewell Harper, and Amy Pritchard