From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Several candidates for statewide office are pledging to build new prison space.
Of course, this is a popular political stance because everyone is fed up with crime.
However, most political candidates are over-simplifying the challenges of protecting our families and property from criminals.
It’s not as simple as building a new prison. It is a complicated issue that requires common sense and the courage to experiment with changes in how we incarcerate inmates.
For example, we have to face the fact that 90 percent of all inmates will eventually be set free.
Unless we do a better job of preparing them for life outside prison, there’s a good chance they will commit another crime and end up behind bars again.
Arkansas has a recidivism rate of 46.1 percent. That means 46 percent of all inmates who get out of prison are arrested again within three years of their release.
Everyone says that our recidivism rate is unacceptably high. Prison officials have recommended solutions to legislators, and now it’s up to the General Assembly to do what needs to be done.
We have to provide more education and job training to inmates. Roughly 40 percent of the individuals sent to prison do not have a high school diploma or a GED.
When inmates get a high school education, they are much less likely to commit another crime when they get out.
We need to become more flexible with occupational degrees. Many inmates have licenses to cut hair or drive a commercial vehicle.
Those licenses expire when they are inside prison, so when they are released they cannot immediately take up their former livelihoods.
We also need to be more realistic when it comes to collecting court costs, fines and fees.
One recommendation is to give the inmate six months grace before collecting fines, because immediately after his release he cannot afford to pay them. For most inmates, his family cannot afford them either.
New prison space should be for violent and dangerous offenders. According to the secretary of corrections, we need maximum security beds.
It’s tempting to lock up criminals and throw away the key when we’re mad at them. If someone steals your car, or breaks into your home, it’s human nature to get extremely angry and upset.
But we have to remember that they will get out of prison one day. It’s in our best interest, for the safety of our families, that we prepare those offenders for a productive life when they are released.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.