University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service graduate Megan Kurten collaborated with members of the DecARcerate Coalition on a research project focusing on inequities in Arkansas’ criminal justice system, particularly focusing on racial disparities in offender populations.
The study found that Arkansas incarceration rate is 53 percent higher than the national level, and the rate of incarceration for African-American offenders is an additional 16 percent higher than national averages. Further, offenders of color are consistently given longer sentences and serve a larger portion of that sentence in prison. Using research, this project mapped out Arkansas’ current criminal justice demographics in juvenile justice, sentencing trends, supervisory practices of parole and probation, and recidivism to develop practical solutions for equitable criminal justice reform.
Kurten assessed models from other states’ successful sentencing reforms, recidivism prevention programs, and modifications to parole and probation practices. The project balanced Arkansas’ need for reform, legislative priorities, and fiscal practicality when developing recommendations for future reform work.
The final report included the following recommendations: (1) codify racial impact legislation, (2) decrease mandatory minimum sentences required by sentencing guidelines, (3) increase use of probation for non-serious offenses instead of prison time, and (4) decrease re-incarceration for technical parole or probation violations.
About the DecARcerate Coalition
The DecARcerate Coalition is a group of agencies whose mission is to confront issues of mass incarceration in Arkansas, which necessarily considers those disproportionate effects on people of color. The Coalition is comprised of the following core agencies: Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Good Grid, Compassion Works for All, Judicial Equality for Mental Illness, Progressive Democrats in Action of Northeast Arkansas, the Inmate Justice Project, and the Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Research Project. These groups work throughout Arkansas with local communities to raise awareness of issues with mass incarceration, advocate for criminal justice reform, and lobby for legislative action. For more information, visit decarceratear.org.