LITTLE ROCK – A bill to keep more people in Arkansas behind bars, and for a longer time, is starting to make its way through the legislature.
Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) introduced the legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, resulting in hours of discussion and debate with lawmakers.
The proposal is part of a prison reform and safety overhaul introduced by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Monday and its getting quite a bit of discussion at the Capitol.
“Make no mistake, this bill is not just tough on crime, it is also very smart on crime,” Gilmore told the committee Wednesday.
The bill looks to do a lot, starting with spending $470 million dollars to build a new prison, adding 3,000 prison beds, increasing police training and changing laws for violent offenders.
Under the bill, the most dangerous and sexual violent offenders would spend 85% to 100% of their sentence incarcerated.
“I want to be very clear about this legislation: it will be tough on crime by enacting truth in sentencing,” Gilmore said.
Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) said he hates to vote against the bill, but he plans to do so. He said there are aspects of it that he likes, like preparing people for re-entry when they get out, and mental health pilot programs, though he fears a lot of this bill would only make crime in Arkansas worse.
“With this legislation, we are just giving into the fact that we are going to be incarcerating a whole lot of people- even more than we already do, and we already have the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country,” he said.
Tucker said based on statistics he has seen, the longer you serve, the more likely you are to re-offend.
“We are already right at the top of the country in terms of our average length of sentence, and this just doubles down on that,” he said.
He said he believes that more beds are not the answer.
Gilmore maintains that the bill is good for victims and our community.
“Most importantly, I think the victims and their families deserve to not be threatened by these same violent offenders,” Gilmore said.
The bill was discussed for hours Wednesday morning in the committee meeting and members are set to meet back after the Senate adjourns Wednesday evening to discuss further and take a vote. Stay with us for updates.