UACES Facebook LeadAR Virtual Session - Arkansas Criminal Justice System
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LeadAR Virtual Session - Arkansas Criminal Justice System

by Lisa Davis - April 26, 2021

On any given day, 10,000 people may be in a county jail in Arkansas and over 14,000 inmates in the state's prison system.

The state's prison population is higher than the national average and more than the countries of El Salvador, South Africa, and Thailand. LeadAR Class 19 heard these statistics and other information about the criminal justice system in the virtual session held April 23, 2021.

Kristin Higgins with the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture facilitated a robust discussion about the criminal justice system in Arkansas.

Invited speakers included:

Sterling Penix, coordinator for the Criminal Detention Facilities Review Office. The Review Office is responsible for monitoring detention facilities to ensure the health and safety of inmates and staff. He shared information about funding of facilities and various key programs in education, job training, mental health, substance abuse treatment, credit recovery, etc. available. He said he was most proud of their work to promote safety of county staff. Also, he was proud to see someone leave jail and accomplish a goal and be productive.

William Straughn, deputy director, Arkansas Division of Corrections. Straughn shared information about programs available to state prison inmates focusing on work in agriculture and vocational training in heat/air, furniture making, and technology. One unique work opportunity is in Newport where individuals work in processing, grinding, and bagging coffee under the brand “Offender’s Choice.”

andre douglas pond cummings, professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law. cummings spoke about how the criminal justice system is broken with far too many individuals locked up as well as the racial disparities of those incarcerated. He said, “Sixteen percent of Arkansans are black, yet 42% of Arkansas inmates are black.” To address these issues, he has founded the Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform which he expects to fully launch in July.

Penix invited LeadAR members to participate in the third annual Jail Resource Day will be held via Zoom May 10-12, 2021. Jail Resource Day is a meeting of jail professionals, correctional professionals, public leaders, community leaders, experts, volunteers, citizens, and others. The day will be focused on learning, growing, sharing, and supporting local jails and to develop community engagement, programming, reentry, and support services. For more information, phone (501) 324-9493.

To learn more about the LeadAR program, visit our website.