LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Each year, roughly 4,000 Arkansan inmates who exit prison end up back in prison. It's one of the main reasons why Arkansas has the fastest growing prison population in the country.
And that’s why the Arkansas legislature has made prison reform a topic of discussion this session.
On March 9, Senate Bill 136 officially became Act 423. The act will allow Arkansas prisons to release non-violent offenders into the care of supervised services who will address needs like addiction.
One local prosecutor has been very vocal about his concerns of the early release of prisoners into the parole program. And, after the recent fatal accident on the Main Street Bridge, that viewpoint has not changed.
Last Wednesday, a parolee, John Fitzgerald Blanks, was behind the wheel of a stolen car when police say he hit bicyclist Ricky Anderson on the bridge connecting North Little Rock to Little Rock. The tragic accident killed both of them.
"They know the system, they know how it works, and they're not afraid of it," said Cody Hiland, prosecuting attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit, "because there's no teeth in it.”
Hiland conceded that programs that deal with addiction are important, but said Arkansans can't "elevate wishful thinking to the status of legitimate public policy." His two major concerns are repeat offenders and overcrowding.
Blanks was released from Cummins Prison on parole the day before the fatal accident. From 1994 to 2017, he was arrested 21 times, mostly for misdemeanors charges like theft, shoplifting, and failure to appear. Blanks was also arrested for felonies like robbery and terroristic threatening.
The sheet details a life in and out of jails and prisons leaving us to wonder where the system failed him.
"You'd have to have a crystal ball to look in to the future to say what's what,” said Michael Johninson, Executive Director of Compassion in Action Arkansas.
His organization helps to provide services to ex-convicts. He said more programs, not more prisons are the answer.
"We have to accept the fact that the front end, all through the process, even afterwards, he needed to have someone to show him his life has meaning," Johninson said.
That concept sounds very similar to Hiland's idea to address Arkansas' 77 percent recidivism rate.
"What we've got to do, is provide a three-step program," Hiland said. "The three legs to the stool. Addiction services, rehabilitation, then focus on repeat offenders, so the people who are really hurting us get put away."
"You will never stop the bleeding overnight, there has to be programs. There has to be some sort of help for these men and women to get their lives together,” Johninson said.
While they may not agree on much when it comes to Arkansas' recidivism rate, the two men agree that more needs to be done on the front-end to curb the rising numbers.
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