Ross unveils plan to address crime, prison overcrowding


LITTLE ROCK — Democratic candidate for governor Mike Ross on Tuesday unveiled a plan to spend an additional $10 million a year on efforts to reduce violent crime and prison overcrowding.

“With better sentencing analysis and by encouraging the use of more probation and parole officers and supervision, alternative sentencing and re-entry programs, we can and we will significantly reduce the costs in our prison system, ease overcrowding and strengthen public safety,” the former congressman said during a news conference at his campaign headquarters in downtown Little Rock.

Ross proposed spending $8.5 million a year to hire about 200 additional probation and parole officers and support alternative sentencing, drug courts and re-entry programs. He also pledged to seek about $1.5 million in increased annual funding for the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division to fund the hiring of eight additional hotline operators and supervisors and 16 additional investigators and supervisors.

Ross announced his plan about a month and a half after his Republican opponent, Asa Hutchinson, also a former congressman, announced a plan to spend an additional $1 million a year to hire more probation and parole officers and an additional $300,000 a year to fund proven re-entry programs for convicts, among other things.

Also Tuesday, Ross proposed increasing the maximum sentences for certain violent crimes; increasing the maximum sentences for certain crimes for repeat offenders; adding representatives of law enforcement to the Arkansas Sentencing Commission; and encouraging Arkansas Community Correction’s continued development of a system of pre-sentencing assessments to gauge offenders’ risk of re-offending.

Ross said that in just two counties, Union and Columbia, pre-sentencing assessments reduced prison admission rates and saved the state $4.2 million in 2011.

“If you look at what this plan can do to save us, it probably … will actually save the state money,” he said.

Ross’ plan also includes charging criminal defendants a $150 fee for each misdemeanor conviction and a $300 fee for each felony conviction to fund existing and new domestic violence shelters; creating a statewide database of protective orders; enhancing training for law enforcement officers on domestic violence; and requiring publication of a biennial report containing statistics on domestic violence in Arkansas.

“In the last decade alone, Arkansas has frequently been ranked one of the 10 worst states in the nation when it comes to men killing women, a typical indicator of domestic homicide. We need to send a strong, clear message 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,” Ross said.

Ross said he developed his plan after consulting with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, policymakers and victim advocates.

Asked to compare his plan to Hutchinson’s, Ross said, “(Hutchinson) threw a plan out there that I’m not sure anybody in the law enforcement community took seriously. His answer to the parole and probation issue that we have in Arkansas, his answer to re-entry, was to invest an additional $5 per parolee in Arkansas. Really? That’s not a serious crime-reduction plan.”

Hutchinson said Tuesday in an email he is pleased that Ross “followed my lead and offered support for many of the same points in my plan,” including giving more tools to prosecutors, adding parole officers and funding re-entry programs and drug courts.

“The clear difference is experience and leadership. I bring to this challenge my experience in law enforcement and as a former federal prosecutor,” said Hutchinson, who has served as director of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and as U.S. attorney in Fort Smith.

Hutchinson said it is “disappointing that (Ross) arrogantly mocks my plan” to do many of the same things Ross proposed.

“He likes to be on both sides of the issue whether it is the Affordable Care Act; or gun control; or voting for (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif). This is just another example,” Hutchinson said.

Ross and Hutchinson also will face Libertarian candidate Frank Gilbert and Green Party candidate Joshua Drake in the Nov. 4 general election.