Public Radio from UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arkansas AG: 5,000 new prison beds needed

Lt. Governor Tim Griffin (R) speaking in the rotunda of the Arkansas Capitol in the spring of 2015.
Jacob Kauffman
/
KUAR
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin, pictured here in his former role as lieutenant governor, is seen in this file photo from 2015.

Attorney General Tim Griffin is not a legislator nor is he governor, but he’s on the same page with Gov. Sarah Sanders and legislative leaders and has been instrumental in pushing for criminal justice reforms that include serving longer sentences, provide work and education skills to prisoners, and expanding prison bed capacity.

Griffin said Sunday (Jan. 22) in an interview on Capitol View and Talk Business & Politics he believes that 5,000 prison beds are needed to meet demand.

“We need a minimum three [3,000] in my view,” Griffin said. “The truth is, we’ve been building prisons, we’ve been building them for years as a matter of practice in a practical matter because we have been quietly pushing our violent felons into – they don’t have room in state prison – we’ve been pushing them into county jails. Which has basically made county jails useless. For the purpose of putting misdemeanors, DUIs, etc. So we have basically made misdemeanor justice irrelevant.”

“I think ultimately we’re going to need like five [5,000 beds]. And you go, ‘Oh, that’s so many.’ It’s so many because for 20 years this has been ignored. Prosecutors and their needs have been ignored. The defense side, which is constitutionally required, it’s been ignored. Our criminal justice system has been underfunded. Do we have to spend money? Yes. People say we can’t afford it. Let me tell you something, we can’t afford not to do this. If you want to run jobs out of our state,” he added.

The cost of 1,000 prison beds is estimated to cost as much as $100 million to construct. Logically, 5,000 prison beds would cost $500 million in construction plus additional funding for operations and staffing.

“Whatever the price tag is, using money wisely. Whatever the price tag is, yes, I’m good with it. Because here’s the deal, just like national defense, it is fundamental responsibility of government to keep people safe.”

The massive truth-in-sentencing bill that Griffin is working on with Sanders, Sen. Ben Gilmore, R-Crossett, and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, is expected to be several hundred pages in length. It may not redefine actual prison sentences. Griffin said it may just change the calculations for early parole options.

“It’s not so much the sentences will be longer, it’s that they will actually serve what they’re given. So we want truth-in-sentencing. Right now, we have ‘deception-in-sentencing’ because people in Arkansas who are convicted of a crime, and we’re talking felonies in particular, they serve a tiny fraction of what they’re given,” Griffin said.

He expects the omnibus state bill to mirror federal sentencing in some parts with no parole for some violent crimes and up to 85% being served for some sentences with the promise of 15% being earned for meritorious or good behavior.

“That will be a part of this bill, if I have my way,” Griffin said. “So for violent crimes, you’re either going to have zero parole or you’ll serve 85% like the federal. If it’s nonviolent, then there’s a 50% category and a 25% category. So you’ll get the whole sentence, but you can earn your way out by getting a degree, learning how to weld, learning how to drive a truck, learning how to be an electrician. So it puts the onus on the prisoner.”

You can watch Griffin’s full interview in the video below.

This story comes from the staff of Talk Business & Politics, a content partner with KUAR News. You can hear the weekly program on Mondays at 6:06 p.m.