Web Extra: The Truth Behind Arkansas Prison Sentences

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland regularly objects to notices of an inmate meritorious furlough (defined as the temporary release of an Arkansas Department of Corrections inmate from prison to an approved sponsor for a specific period of time).

"We're frustrated already by the lack of time they're actually spending in prison. To add furloughs to that is incredibly frustrating," Hiland said.

These breaks are added on top of built-in sentence reductions.

For some crimes, prisoners serve as little as 1/3 of their sentence behind bars. Plus -- for many convictions -- for every day they're behind bars on good behavior, that's a day knocked off their sentence, which can cut the time in half again.

"Right now, there is no truth in sentencing. 20 years is not 20 years. It's far less than that," Hiland said.

According to Hiland, depending on the crime, a 20-year sentence can actually translate into about five years with the reductions. It's something his office has to talk to both victims and juries about so that there's an understanding of how much time a convict will or won't serve.

"Given the amount of time that they don't serve, if we don't talk to the victim about that, it's almost malpractice on our part," Hiland said. "When we talk to the jury, we have to explain to the jury, you have the option of three years or 10 years. You have to understand that if you give them 10 years, they are parole eligible x one sixth of the time."

And in some cases, the office has to weigh whether charging the person with a misdemeanor might actually result in them doing more time to pay for the crime than if they were to head to state lockup for a felony.

"On a misdemeanor case, they can do up to a year. There are some cases it might be beneficial to charge misdemeanor and get a bigger sentence on that side in county jail than put them in the state system because they'll be out quicker," Hiland said.

When you have that kind of scenario taking place... something is not right.

Hiland would like a review of sentencing so victims have a true idea of what will happen in the system and so repeat offenders will serve more time behind bars -- to make crime come at a steeper cost.


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