This article is Part 4 of an ongoing series called #ARCorrectionsCrisis, which focuses on the dysfunction of the Arkansas Board of Corrections. We intend to track their actions and educate the public about their conduct until they finally prioritize Arkansas crime victims and the safety of our communities above their own power.
As the saga between the Arkansas Board of Corrections and the rest of state government continues to unfold, Arkansans are the ones left behind. Why? Because, as the board fights against expanding prison bed space to house more criminals, it is everyday Arkansans who bear the risks of the state’s crime crisis.
Some may think that the Arkansas crime crisis is not all that bad. Unfortunately this is not the case, which only underscores why additional prison capacity is so desperately needed.
Over the last two decades, violent crime has increased by 52 percent. Aggravated assault is up by 74 percent. And homicide is up by an astonishing 96 percent.
Yet again, all of these trends are worse than every single neighboring state and the national average according to FBI data. In fact, all of Arkansas’s neighbors have seen violent crime rates decline over the last two decades.
So while other states have seen their crime crises alleviated, Arkansas’s has only been further aggravated.
Today in Arkansas, someone will be the victim of a violent crime–whether it is homicide, rape, assault, or another offense–nearly once per hour.
Every seven minutes, someone will be the victim of a property crime.
In some cities, like Little Rock and Pine Bluff, the reality is even worse. These two cities—along with North Little Rock—are among the most dangerous cities in the nation.
According to the FBI Crime Data Explorer, Arkansas’s crime figures are far worse than its neighbors. Arkansas has more violent crime per capita than any other surrounding state.
In fact, after adjusting for population and compared to all other states and Washington, D.C., Arkansas is ranked:
Yes, it is this bad. In virtually every crime statistic, Arkansas is worse than its neighbors and the national average.
This crime crisis is directly related to the failures of the Arkansas Board of Corrections. In a forthcoming article from Opportunity Arkansas, we will highlight that between 2011 and 2022, roughly 27,400 inmates (including some of those convicted of serious felonies) were released early with the endorsement of the board via the state’s Emergency Powers Act (EPA).
The EPA allows the state, at the recommendation of the Board of Corrections, to release inmates early under certain conditions. During the same exact time frame of these EPA releases, Arkansas’s violent crime rate increased by about 34 percent.
Meanwhile, the board’s failure to meaningfully increase prison capacity has only further exacerbated this crisis. As a result, a vicious cycle of “catch and release” has been created: criminals are caught, released early due to a lack of space, and then caught again, only to be released early yet again.
These failed policies contribute directly to the state’s high crime rates. Put simply, Arkansas is an outlier among outliers when it comes to crime thanks to the Board of Corrections. The state is facing a crisis that is monumental by every crime trend, comparison, and statistic.
This crisis demands the attention of state policymakers. Thankfully, the Arkansas legislature and Governor Sarah Sanders took meaningful steps to reduce violent crime with the passage of the Protect Arkansas Act in 2023. This legislation:
However, while Arkansans are rightfully concerned about high crime and have entrusted their leaders to address it, the Board of Corrections is taking it far less seriously. In fact, they are far more concerned about the safety of criminals than they are of the general public.
In his seven page letter to Gov. Sanders, the Corrections Board Chair Benny Magness actually pontificated at length regarding the safety of inmates inside prisons, while ignoring the safety risks posed to Arkansans by the ongoing crime crisis. Meanwhile, the board has challenged the Protect Arkansas Act in court with a liberal judge ruling in their favor against parts of the law.
Unless and until the Board of Corrections acknowledges this crisis with the seriousness it deserves, it will only get worse. Unfortunately, the board has not only avoided making good policy decisions, but they have actively made the situation worse.
Arkansans who are already struggling with high levels of violent crime will continue to pay the price for the board’s negligence.