A new Arkansas law will help parolees and probationers who commit minor violations avoid prison.

In recent years, Arkansas has suffered from one of the fastest growing prison populations in the country. The booming prison population was largely the result of strict parole-violation laws that resulted in many people on parole or probation getting sent back to prison due to minor violations. Now, as the Arkansas Times reports, the state has passed an important criminal justice reform bill that will help keep those who commit minor parole and probation violations out of prison.

Why Arkansas had such tough parole laws

Often, just one high-profile case is enough to change the laws in a way to make them more punitive, if not always more effective at fighting crime. In 2013, for example, the murder of a teenage girl in Little Rock by a man who had multiple parole violations led to a crackdown on parole and probation violators. As a result, even minor parole and probation violations could lead to those violators being sent back to prison.

While many people understandably think that longer and harsher prison sentences help reduce crime, the opposite is in fact true. All that was achieved by the tougher rules was an exploding prison population that has become more expensive for Arkansan taxpayers to support.

Reforming parole laws

As a result, early in 2017 the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 423, “The Criminal Justice Efficiency and Safety Act.” The new law allows for parolees and probationers who commit only minor violations, such as missing a drug rehab meeting, to be sent for 45 to 180 days to an Arkansas Community Correction facility instead of being sent back to prison. The law helps ensure that minor violators get access to rehabilitation programs while also freeing up space in Arkansas’ overcrowded prisons.

As U.S. News & World Report notes, the Arkansas Board of Corrections later clarified the new probation and parole rules. While the Board of Corrections will have the final say on where each offender goes, the Board’s guidelines specify that those who fail a drug test or commit specified minor misdemeanors should be sent to Community Correction Facilities instead of prison. However, violators who are considered a “threat to the community,” such as those with a history of assaulting officers or fellow inmates, will not be eligible for being sent to Community Correction Facilities.

Criminal defense help

Arkansas has some of the toughest criminal laws in the country, even with the reforms described above now in place. That’s why anybody who has been charged with an offense needs to talk to a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can help clients uphold their rights and help them fight to maintain their freedom.