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Weekly Column From Arkansas House Of Representatives March 10, 2017

By Staff, 03/13/17 6:02 PM

LITTLE ROCK – This week, the House passed the Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act. Days later, it was signed into law by the Governor.

We expect this bill to have a tremendous impact not only in our prison overcrowding situation, but also in the way we treat mental health for Arkansans in a crisis.

Arkansas currently has the number one incarceration growth rate in the country. This is what prompted two legislative task forces to take action two years ago. After months of research and testimony, legislators drafted SB136 (now Act 423).

This bill reforms the probation and parole system in the state and provides more access to mental health treatment in the criminal justice system.

Currently, an average of 1,600 people are incarcerated because their parole or probation was revoked for a non-violent misdemeanor.

This bill would allow for those who violate the conditions of their parole by committing a minor violation (such as missing a meeting) to serve a 45-day program with the Department of Community Correction. Those who violate conditions by committing a non-violent misdemeanor would serve a 90-day program with the Department of Community Correction.

States that have implemented a similar program have seen lower recidivism rates.

The second part to this legislation is the mental health component.

Law enforcement will receive training in mental health crisis intervention. This type of specialized training has shown that officers are more equipped to identify a person having a mental health crisis and gives them the tools to deal with that person.

Experience has shown that officers with this type of training are able to de-escalate a situation on-site 52% of the time.

For those situations that cannot be de-escalated on site and where no serious crime has occurred, this bill establishes three crisis stabilization centers in the state. The centers will provide another place to take individuals who are having a crisis other than the county jail. The Governor has committed $5 million to support these facilities, which will provide evaluation and treatment.

The House is now entering the 10th week of the Regular Session. As a reminder you can watch all House committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org.

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