Feb 17, 2022 - News

Arkansas' incarceration rate up as other states decline

Change in incarcerations per 100k people
Data: The Marshall Project; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios. See an interactive version.

Arkansas is one of only four states that had an increase in its incarceration rate between 2010 and 2020, according to an analysis of census data by The Marshall Project.

Driving the news: Gov. Asa Hutchinson supports spending $60-$100 million of the state's 2022 budget surplus to add 500 beds at the North Central Unit at Calico Rock.

  • The men's prison currently has a capacity of 800.

Why it matters: Economically, taxpayers foot the bill, reducing funds available for education and social services.

  • Marginalized communities and people from a lower socioeconomic status are over-represented in prison populations.
  • And, there's no proof that higher incarceration actually reduces crime.
Change in incarcerations per 100k people in Arkansas, 2010-2020
Data: The Marshall Project; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios. See an interactive version.

By the numbers: The number of people incarcerated in Arkansas per 100,000 grew from 866 in 2010 to 899 in 2020.

  • The rate grew in at least 40 of the state's 75 counties. There was insufficient data in Cleveland, Desha, Madison and White counties.

Yes, but: Census data are a snapshot in time, and there are additional challenges involved in counting revolving populations in detention centers.

  • For instance, the data showed there were only 46 detainees in Benton County's jail in 2010, which grew to 247 in 2020.
  • Lt. Shannon Jenkins told Axios the population actually averaged about 400 in 2010 and was near 700 in 2020.

Authors of The Marshall Project study said that incarcerated people are counted on April 1 of the census year and noted the process is flawed, but didn't provide an explanation for the discrepancy.

Between the lines: The increased incarceration rate is likely a combination of several factors, U of A associate professor of sociology and criminology, Rodney Engen, told Axios.

  • Our violent crime has been trending way up and above the national average, as we reported in October.
  • Arkansas judges and prosecutors have a lot of discretion when it comes to sentencing, unlike many other states that have mandatory sentencing guidelines.
  • And, some policy changes in Arkansas about a decade ago have led to higher parole revocations, Engen said.

The intrigue: In a press conference last week, Hutchinson said the state projects an annual average increase of 1.4% in the incarcerated population through 2031, meaning there would be more than 19,000 inmates that year.

  • The projections were based on the December 2020 population of 16,094 inmates.
  • However, there were 17,023 inmates at the end of 2021, a 5.7% increase from 2020, more than four percentage points higher than the projections.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections told Axios that its projections will be updated later this year using 2021 data.

Go deeper: See interactive versions of the national and Arkansas maps.


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