LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen opposes a recent decision made by the Arkansas Board of Corrections to spend millions of dollars constructing a new prison. Judge Griffen opposes the decision so much that he wrote a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe asking him to oppose it.
The proposed 1,000-bed state prison could cost up to $85 million to build. However, Judge Griffen wrote in the letter to the governor that the state is imprisoning substance abuse offenders who are not a threat to society and should instead be using money to fund drug addiction and dependency programs.
In the letter, Judge Griffen wrote:
Most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity. Arrests for marijuana possession — a drug less harmful than tobacco or alcohol — accounted for nearly 80 percent of the drug arrests in the 1990s. The "War on Drugs" has resulted in longer prison sentences, financed private prison firms and related businesses, undermined trust in law enforcement (especially within communities populated by persons of color), and strained state and local government budgets. Arkansas does not have a prison overcrowding problem because of a dramatic increase in violent offenders. We have a prison overcrowding problem because of the "War on Drugs."
It is foolish to believe that cancer, AIDS and other life-threatening diseases will be reduced and cured by building mortuaries and cemeteries and hiring funeral directors and grave diggers. The Jan. 23 decision of the Board of Corrections represents similar folly. That is why I urge you to stop the board's plans and impose a moratorium on new prison construction in Arkansas.
Judge Wendell told KUAR public radio that he does not expect a personal response from the governor, but that he hopes the governor tells the legislature that he will propose to build a 1,000-bed prison and spend millions of dollars planning and then plan on millions of dollars operating it. Instead, Judge Wendell believes the governor should spend money on mental health facilities and drug treatment facilities instead of on the “War on Drugs” process, which Wendell believes has failed.