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      Ark. House panel OKs alternative sentencing bill

      By MICHAEL STRATFORDAssociated Press

      LITTLE ROCK (AP) - An Arkansas House panel has advanced a proposal to allow judges in the state to establish court-directed rehabilitation programs where they can send defendants as an alternative to prison or probation.

      Under the proposal, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, defendants would see their case dismissed and records expunged in exchange for successfully completing the program. The option would be available to people charged with certain felonies but excludes those accused of sex offenses or crimes committed against minors or people over 65 years old.

      The measure is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Darrin Williams, who led an overhaul of sentencing and corrections laws in 2011.

      He says the "smart sentencing" programs, which are similar to drug courts, will protect public safety while reducing incarceration costs.

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