By Sara Mitchell
The main goal of the newly-implemented Smarter Sentencing Program, which is already being utilized in Union County, is to make the public safer and reduce the prison recidivism rate by 25 percent, according to Prosecutor Robin Carroll.
Carroll, 13th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney, and Deputy Prosecutor Tennille Price, spoke to members of the Civitan Club Thursday about the Smarter Sentencing Program, and also gave some background on their services to the public.
Smarter Sentencing consists of Tier IA, IB, II, and III categories for offenders and excludes serious violent felonies, sex crimes, violence against children, and the elderly and handicapped. Columbia County has followed with the program and Ouachita County will begin one by the end of the summer.
The program will accelerate placing defendants in programs which fit their needs, thanks to a $750,000 grant obtained for the program.
The crime rate is already down in Union County, Carroll said. A 30 percent decrease has been noted in Union County since 2006.
Price explained the break-down of the process to be admitted into the program.
She said first, the defendant talks with their attorney, and the defense files a motion for the program. The prosecutor, however, has the power to veto the action. If the prosecutor thinks the defendant might benefit from the program, the victim will be assessed, followed by a detailed report.
Tier IA and IB are considered for low-risk offenders who are not likely to re-offend. When they enter the program, their case will be continued for approximately six months.
Those in Tier II or III must take a plea, which will then be under advisement by their assigned judge. They can then enter the program and will report back in front of the judge, who will sentence them accordingly.
Sanctions must be swift, certain and sure. Offenders begin with a graduated scale that may include community service, and/or a day in jail. If behavior is not corrected, more jail time is probable and the possibility exists for them to be kicked out of jail.
Upon graduation from the Smarter Sentencing Program, most will have their pleas withdrawn, or records expunged.
Keeping statistics is crucial for public safety, the number one priority, but also useful to change aspects of the program if needed.
Carroll said that Act 570 – The Public Safety Improvement Act – is a top priority for the governor and legislators.
Projections were for prison growth to be 40 percent over the next 10 years and cost Arkansas taxpayers $1.1 billion. However, if the bill works as expected, the growth may not be stopped but projected savings will be approximately $875 million.
“We may not stop prison growth, but we will bend the curve,” Carroll said.
Carroll, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to be on the ACT 570 Implementation Task Force, along with other attorneys and judges, said some sentencing was reduced for lower level crimes.
Currently 16,500 inmates are housed in the Arkansas Department of Correction. “It would be more than 20,000 if we did nothing,” Carroll said.
Carroll was also appointed to the Legislative Committee for the Prosecutors Association and also appointed to the Sentencing Commission.
The trend is to put evidence and science-based practices in the criminal justice system, Carroll said.
The prosecuting philosophy is simple, Carroll said. “Do the right thing to the right person at the right time for the right reason.”
The 13th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney’s Office includes the six counties of Calhoun, Cleveland, Columbia, Dallas, Ouachita and Union. Geographically, the area covers the combination of the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. The office processes about 1,400 felony cases per year.
Criminogenic needs, or those likely to cause criminal behavior, are listed in order – anti-social behavior, companions, temperament, family issues/support, substance abuse, employment, education, leisure time, mental illness, low self esteem, personal distress, health and intelligence.
Quoting Judge Stephen Trout, Carroll said, “It’s a luxury of a lifetime to be able to pursue only those things that are right. You are encumbered by the bad ideas of the client who is paying you money. You are only encumbered by your own desire to do the right thing and to make sure that justice is done.”