Report says judges may be sentencing prisoners wrong

Governor Hutchinson speaks out on judge sentencing
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A new report shows judges are sentencing more people as felons, despite a decline in crime and arrests.

The report from the Council of State Governments (CSG) shows judges may not be following the suggested guidelines for sentencing.

The guidelines, created by the Arkansas Sentencing Commission, say offenders can fall into one of three punishment zones.

The zones are based on criminal history and seriousness of the crime.

Zone 1 is for the most serious crimes and people who continue to commit crimes. Those individuals should serve time behind bars.

The second zone gives the judges a chance to use their own judgment based on the crime.

Finally, the third is for non-prison punishments like probation or community service.

These guidelines are only a suggestion and not law; but, according to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, they are meant to help judges have a more uniform sentencing process and are NOT meant to be ignored.

"We are asking for review of those sentencing guidelines and there should be some consequences," said Governor Hutchinson. "Right now, if judges are sentencing outside the guidelines, they're supposed to file a report with the court to explain the reasons. We want to make sure that's being followed."

Researchers with CSG found in 2014 almost 20 percent of the prisoners came from the third section of the guidelines.

A news station in Central Arkansas spoke with a State Senator who is on the task force on criminal justice and he said these findings are alarming.

He told the station this report is something the task force will be studying more.

Region 8 News spoke with a local county jail to see what overcrowding in prisons could mean for county jails.

"When the prisons are overcrowded it definitely overcrowds all the county jails," said Chief Deputy J.R. Thomas with Craighead County Sheriff's Department. "It makes it to where they are not taking any more prisoners so we have to house them here and take care of them."

Right now the Craighead County jail has 100 fewer inmates than it did a month ago, so the jail is not overcrowded at the time.

Thomas said the jail has been overcrowded before and is it a real problem when it happens.

Researchers will present the full report to lawmakers Wednesday.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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