The increase is not large — 0.9 percent annually — and it is being held down by a 41 percent drop last year in the number of people sent back to prison for violating terms of probation and parole.
The number of people sent to Arkansas prisons for violating their terms of probation or parole fell more than 41 percent in 2017, as a new law went into effect aimed at stemming the surge in population, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. For the first time in at least six years, the number of offenders entering probation was more than those going into prison. The good news came with more humbling statistics for a prison system already filled beyond its capacity: The number of state prisoners is expected to grow by 0.9 percent annually over the next decade, adding about 1,869 incarcerated people in one of the nation’s most incarcerated states.
The Arkansas Department of Correction is responsible for about 18,000 prisoners, with about 1,600 housed in county jails. That number is expected to grow to 19,947 by 2028, according to a report by JFA Associates. The prison system’s capacity is 15,212. Not counting other inmates held by the Arkansas State Police, in county jails or at a contracted lockup in Texas, the system housed 15,552 people Monday. “We continue to do a lot of things, right things to try to lower our population in prison. We’ll continue to try to find more,” said Benny Magness, the chairman of the Board of Corrections. “If we don’t, we’re going to have to increase the number of beds at some point.” A 2011 law offered leniency toward parole violators and absconders. The law led to a drop in the prison population that lasted until 2013, when an absconder killed a teenager in Little Rock in a highly publicized case that led officials to crack down on parole violators. The prison population then boomed, as did projections for growth. At one point, it was estimated that as many as 25,000 people would be incarcerated in Arkansas within the next decade.