Asa Hutchinson, the current Republican governor of Arkansas, has viewed the criminal justice system from a variety of vantage points at both the state and federal levels. He was a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, during the implementation of some of the first mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and he saw the system in a different light through his work with the House Judiciary Committee. He also headed the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), recognizing even then the destructive disparity between sentences for crack and powder cocaine. Later, he joined the private sector as a defense attorney.
When he became the governor of Arkansas in January 2015, the state was facing prison overcrowding so severe that it would need to allocate $100 million toward building more prison space. During his keynote address, Hutchinson explained that he signed the Right on Crime Statement of Principles because, according to him, conservatives should not hesitate to emphasize principles like fairness, justice, second chances, and fiscal responsibility.
From there, Hutchinson worked to expand alternatives to incarceration that would more successfully rehabilitate offenders and alter behavior. Arkansas devoted $14 million to alternative sentencing courts, expanding them for nonviolent offenders. Efforts like this reduced Arkansas’s backlog of prisoners in county jails from 3,000 to 1,800. Moreover, these measures gave offenders a second chance and saved taxpayers money by reducing long-term prison costs.
Now, Hutchinson is calling for a comprehensive review of state sentencing laws to determine which are most effective. This, he said, is just the beginning of a debate that is essential for the United States. He is confident that citizens’ sense of fairness will enable the country to overcome challenges to achieving meaningful reform.