Arkansas Senate backs repeat offenders bill

The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Arkansas senators have approved a proposal that would require repeat offenders to stay in prison longer even though state prisons lack funding and space.

The state Senate voted in favor of the bill 20-9 on Wednesday, though Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has promised to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ) reported.

The bill would require offenders who have served three or more stays in the Department of Correction to serve 80 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.

"We have put such a burden on our sheriffs and our prosecutors," said Republican Sen. Bryan King, who authored the bill. "These people who are incarcerated have had multiple, multiple opportunities to improve their situation, and it hasn't worked."

King said the legislation is a public safety matter aimed at preventing more crime.

But the governor said the proposal isn't a well-designed plan.

"For one thing, the main argument for this legislation is that it will increase public safety. This is not the case, I can assure you. In fact this bill pushes additional offenders into already overcrowded county jails," Hutchinson said in a statement.

Estimates show that if approved, the changes could add nearly 5,500 inmates to the prison system by 2026.

Under the Emergency Powers Act, the Department of Correction has had to release inmates because of chronic overcrowding. An estimated $692 million has been spent over 10 years to house, feed, guard and provide medical care for additional inmates.