Expansive criminal justice bills to protect public safety have been signed into law by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Sweeping changes will target the state’s parole system and dealers of dangerous drugs such as fentanyl, who are responsible for overdose deaths, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“We will not rest until we hold criminals in Arkansas accountable and enforce the law on the books,” said Sanders in a news conference. “We can and we must do everything that is within our power to protect the people of our state.”
The Protect Arkansas Act was legislated to require those convicted of the state penal code’s most violent felonies, including capital murder and rape, to complete the entirety of their prison commitments.
In addition, people convicted of lesser violent felonies such as second-degree murder, first degree battery, or sexual indecency with a child, will be required to serve 85% of their sentence before being eligible for parole, reported the article.
Arkansas’ Fentanyl Enforcement Accountability Act of 2023 includes a charge of “aggravated death by delivery.” Those convicted of knowingly distributing fentanyl to someone who then dies because of ingesting the substance, faces a sentence of 20 to 60 years or life.
Any dealer who delivers fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine to a minor, who then dies as a result, would also be guilty of “aggravated death by delivery,” and would face up to a life sentence.
Anyone convicted of “predatory marketing of fentanyl to minors” by packaging the drug in a manner that entices children could face a life sentence and a $1 million fine, asserted the article.
The new law requires courts to add a period of post-release supervision to persons convicted of these violent felonies if they are not already sentenced to the statutory maximum for their crime.
Anyone who will have to serve at least 85% of their sentence and then violates their parole terms will be penalized by having to serve the remainder of their original sentence and the time assessed for the violation.
Felonies not itemized by the new law could be required to serve only 50% or 25%, depending on the seriousness of the crime as established by the Arkansas Sentencing Commission, reported the article.
The statute for those having to serve 100% will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and for persons convicted of lesser violent offenses, the new post-release supervision system will begin on Jan. 1, 2025, stated the source.
The lengthy measure is structured to give support to child victims of crimes, prepare incarcerated people for reentry into the workforce, and suspend court fines for incarcerated defendants for 120 days after they are released from custody.
Part of the package also includes the addition of 3,000 beds to the state’s prison system to help alleviate the backlog of those waiting in county jails, noted the article.
The state’s Democratic lawmakers support some of the legislation but are opposed to sentence restructuring, citing studies indicating that longer sentences do not lead to a reduction in crime. They suggest more investment in prevention, treatment, and reentry programs.