story by Ryan Saylor
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross, a former Congress from Prescott, released a plan Tuesday that he said would boost funding by at least $8.5 million to reduce crime, relieve prison overcrowding and address domestic violence and child abuse in the Natural State.
“One of government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to ensure public safety. My ‘Tougher, Smarter’ plan will reduce crime in Arkansas by toughening sentences for repeat and violent offenders; getting smarter about how we sentence certain first-time, nonviolent and drug offenders; cracking down on those who abuse children; and, enacting historic measures to protect and empower survivors of domestic violence," Ross said.
Republican gubernatorial challenger Asa Hutchinson responded Tuesday by saying he was out first with a plan and that his approach includes his years in law enforcement.
"My crime reduction plan was announced nearly month ago, which included more tools and resources for prosecutors; strengthening our parole system with additional parole officers with more authority; funding effective reentry programs and providing additional support for drug treatment courts,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “I am encouraged that Mike Ross has followed my lead and offered support for many of the same points in my plan. The clear difference is experience and leadership. I bring to this challenge my experience in law enforcement and as a former federal prosecutor."
Ross said a key factor in getting his plan enacted would be using his "experience of bringing people together to push partisan politics aside and find commonsense solutions that make our communities safer and more prosperous.”
The plan to toughen sentences focuses on repeat and violent offenders, as well as "enhancing sentences" for firearm thefts and aggravated residential burglary.
"The plan also directs the state to better utilize pre-sentencing assessments that identify effective and proven sentences to reduce the likelihood a criminal will re-offend," a press release from the Ross campaign said.
Ross' plan calls for increased funding of $8.5 million during the next four years to hire additional probation and parole officers, which he said would help the state "better utilize alternative sentencing, such as electronic monitoring and drug courts, and re-entry programs," which he said have proven to reduce crime and prison overcrowding.
“Currently, there are more than 2,000 state prisoners backed up in county jails, and law enforcement has expressed to me their concerns about the state’s ability to lock up those who break the law, especially violent criminals,” Ross said. “In addition to tougher sentences for repeat and violent offenders, my plan will help us get smarter about how we sentence and rehabilitate certain first-time, nonviolent and drug offenders, so that we can reduce the likelihood these criminals will re-offend and we can ensure our prisons have the space necessary to lock up violent and dangerous criminals and keep them off the streets.”
The plan also touches on domestic violence and child abuse, with Ross proposing the "Protecting & Empowering Survivors of Domestic Violence Act," which his campaign described as "a series of new measures to help survivors of domestic violence."
As a part of his proposed legislation dealing with domestic violence, Ross has proposed increasing funding for the Domestic Peace Fund that supports battered women's shelters across the state. To do this, he proposes requiring those convicted of domestic violence pay a court fee for each conviction of domestic violence offenses.
"(Ross) will also authorize portions of the Fund to support projects and programs that better train law enforcement to handle domestic violence situations," a campaign release said.
“Domestic violence is a major public safety issue in Arkansas and across America, which is why I proudly voted for the Violence Against Women Act and fought off attempts to weaken the law. It’s also why domestic violence is a cornerstone of my crime reduction plan,” said Ross. “We need to send a strong, clear signal in this state that domestic violence will not be tolerated, and we will do everything we can to protect and empower victims of domestic violence in Arkansas.”
The Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division — the division tasked with investigating sexual abuse — would also receive $1.28 million under Ross' plan, with the campaign noting the division has not been able to add hotline operators or investigators since 2008 despite the rise in abuse reports.
“Every child deserves the opportunity to live a happy, healthy life. As governor, I will increase funding for the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division so that we can crack down on those who hurt children and put them behind bars where they belong," Ross said.
Ross, whose gubernatorial candidacy has been endorsed by 65 of the state's 75 county sheriffs, said his latest policy proposal dealing with crime and domestic violence fit perfectly with his previous policy proposals dealing with jobs and education.
“Studies show that at-risk children who do not receive high-quality early childhood education are 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18,” he said. “I’m running to be the ‘Education Governor’ because improving the quality of life in Arkansas on everything from poverty and crime to homelessness and hunger starts with education. By implementing my crime plan, along with strengthening public education and pre-k in Arkansas, we can reduce crime, create jobs and make Arkansas an even better place to live, work and raise family.”
Link here for a PDF report of Ross’ plan.