LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed major components of the Safer Stronger Arkansas Act in a Tuesday ceremony at state police headquarters.
Promising there would be “no more revolving door,” the governor pointed out the package’s provision of 100% sentencing for violent offenders and the increasing room in county detention centers as the state builds a new 3,000-bed prison.
“No more weak sentencing and no more unsafe streets,” Sanders said. “Under the Protect Arkansas legislative package, If you create a violent offense like murder, rape or child sex abuse, you will service 100% of the jail time that you were sentenced to. Violent offenders will have to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they’re eligible for release with supervision.”
The governor also pointed out a provision in the package that any drug dealer who sells fentanyl to a minor would receive a life prison sentence as part of the Death by Delivery bill.
“Those who traffic fentanyl to children, we will now charge them with life in prison,” Sanders said.
Attorney General Tim Griffin spoke to the benefits of increasing prison space and sentencing reforms.
“There is nothing more disrespectful and dishonorable toward law enforcement than asking them to catch our most dangerous criminal, and then shortly thereafter, systematically releasing violent felons back out on the street and then saying, ‘Can you please catch them again?’ and again, and again,” he said, adding “This act changes that.”
The attorney general said the space freed up in county jails by the increase in state prison beds could now be used to hold misdemeanor criminals. Many of those criminals, Griffin claimed, now go free due to lack of space in county facilities.
“[This act] will restore misdemeanor justice,” he said.
The legislation also includes increased funding for state police and prison officers.
During questions, Arkansas Department of Corrections Sec. Joe Profiri said steps were being taken to expand the current state prison capacity. Capacity is expected to grow as funding for new guards comes into effect.
“We’ve identified approximately 500 beds that we can add to current infrastructure,” he said. “Now I’m also reviewing the Tucker facility as we have shut down some barracks there due to staffing levels. As staffing levels come up, I will be activating additional beds at that facility.”
Also during questions, Sanders said the new prison’s $330 million cost would be split across two funding years.
When introducing the legislation in March, Sanders said the new prison would cost $31 million a year to operate. At that time, the prison cost was expected to be $470 million.
Sanders and Griffin both thanked Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould) for their work in sponsoring the bill.