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Arkansas Ranked Fifth Compared To Other States And Countries For Incarceration

Michael Hibblen

Arkansas ranks near the top of other states and countries in the percentage of people in prisons, according to a report released this month by the Prison Policy Initiative. The organization also said the United States incarcerates more citizens per capita than any other country. The report says “every U.S. state relies too heavily on prisons and jails to respond to crime.”

Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative, said this year’s report found Arkansas is incarcerating the fifth most people per capita of any U.S. state.

“If you looked at Arkansas as a country,” Bertram said, “it would have the highest incarceration rate of any country on Earth.”

Arkansas has an incarceration rate of 942 per 100,000 people, the report said.

There are 24 other states that, if isolated, would meet that same criteria, incarcerating more people per capita than any country. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the U.S., returning to it’s long-held position as “the world’s prison capital.”

Bertram said, “I think that this figure should remind people that even though we think incarceration is the best solution to a lot of social problems, we are using it way more than other countries.”

Compared to peer countries, she said the numbers are still out of proportion and are not effectively addressing crime.

“We do have high rates of crime in the U.S.,” Bertram added, “but if incarceration was a fix for that, then we wouldn’t see the high crime rates we see today.”

Bertram also condemned Act 964, passed by the Arkansas General Assembly this year. The law prevents repeat offenders who are caught with a gun while committing a new crime from being eligible for parole.

“On the surface, that sounds good,” she said, “but, you dig a little deeper and you realize that’s a law that could be used to lock up a heck of a lot of people. And I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

The Prison Policy Initiative is a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization based in Massachusetts. The initiative produces research to expose what it says is the harm of mass criminalization and advocates to solve the problems.

Bertram considers laws like the one passed this year as contributing to Arkansas being near the top on the incarceration list. She said she hopes people use this study to fight against mass incarceration and focus on other ways to reduce crime.

“We need more schools, not more prisons. We need more housing, not more prisons,” she said.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
Remington Miller was an intern at KUAR News as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. She later worked as a reporter and editor for the station.