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Baxter County Sheriff John "Monty" Montgomery has pet peeves when it comes to law enforcement, not the least of which is the absurd revolving door in our criminal justice system. The process sees convicted felons locked away briefly, then released onto the streets only to be re-arrested for additional crimes.

During a recent summer golf tournament at Diamond City, Montgomery mentioned a 2018 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report so sobering it caused me to miss yet another 3-foot putt. (Don't we always blame someone else in 2018 America?)

"Amazingly enough, five of every six state prisoners are re-arrested within nine years of being release," he said.

You mean to say, Sheriff, that for every 100 inmates released, all but about 16 wind up back behind bars in less than a decade?

That's what the justice statistics folks found in a study of 401,288 inmates released by 30 states between 2005 and 2014, Montgomery said. "So we have to ask ourselves whether our prisons are to punish and rehabilitate criminals or simply confine them a while until being freed to continually re-offend."

Sheriff "Montymire," as I call him, soon forwarded a copy of the report. Sure enough, it said five of every six prisoners were re-offending in less than a decade. Those 30 states accounted for 77 percent of all prisoners released from state prisons nationwide in 2005.

There were additional revealing details within the first-ever nine-year study of recidivism by the Department of Justice's statistics agency. Previously, the longest look-back period was between three and five years after an inmate was released. This longer view opened many eyes as to how many return to commit crimes.

"Overall, 68 percent of released state prisoners were arrested within three years," a news release announcing the report reads. That number reached 79 percent within six years, and 83 percent within nine years. Forty-four percent had been arrested within their first year of freedom.

All total, the 401,288 prisoners were arrested about two million times during the nine years following their release, an average of five arrests each.

The report said 5 percent of the convicts researched were arrested during their first year of freedom, but had not re-offended after that by the time the nine-year study was complete.

Other than offering lots of revealing statistics, what does all this mean? Well, in light of the damning information contained in the report, it strikes me our criminal justice system is failing miserably. States have to come to grips with their sense of purpose and consider effective reforms to their penal systems that can drastically cut this out-of-control recidivism.

Without some forward thinking and learning from such gawd-awful percentages, we can expect not a thing to change for the better.

I get letters

From George--"A friend of mine in Arkansas told me you have written extensively about the dangers of locating swine feedlots on landscapes underlain by karst geology. In Southeast Minnesota residents are considering siting a farrowing operation on karst landscape in Fillmore County. Is there a written encapsulation anywhere of the issues surrounding the controversy about the Buffalo River pig farm?

"Our township authorities and state pollution control agency are in the final stages of public hearings on our local matter and the public here is still poorly informed about the consequences of intensive animal husbandry on porous bedrock. Any suggestions you could offer, either print articles or Internet links, would be greatly appreciated." [I had several to suggest.]

From John--"I haven't thought about Janie Ward since the last of your extended series on that tragic case. Sad to hear her father has passed without seeing justice or closure for his daughter. I trust the remaining family will find peace someday. How difficult and trying it would be to live in a community that treated you personally, and your child's death, so trivially and shamefully. I know your support of the parents and the publicity your writing brought to the case was encouraging as they battled the system many years."

From Paula--"I rarely write the paper. I just read it and shake my head! But it was through tears that I read your wonderful 'goodbye' article referencing Ron Ward. How long and hard he and his wife worked to find the truth about their girl. How sad the way they were treated time and time again. Shame on all who didn't roll up their sleeves and help find the truth! But two things come to mind; they had a warrior helper, and Big Ron is with sweet Janie right now. All troubles, cares and pain gone."

In closing

I continue urging each caring Arkansan to express written comments concerning the Department of Environmental Quality's justifiable decision to deny a new Regulation 5 permit to C&H Hog Farms in our Buffalo River watershed to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality at 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, 72118 (with a copy to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission at the same address); or complete a comment form at


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

Editorial on 09/09/2018

Print Headline: A revolving door

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