Arkansas’s Democratic and Republican Gubernatorial rivals are still at odds over what to do about the number of inmates in state prisons. Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross traded remarks over alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders Thursday at the 80th convention of the Arkansas Municipal League.
Ross pushed for reducing the number of incarcerated non-violent drug offenders. Hutchinson characterized Ross’s plan as lenient on non-violent crime.
“If somebody’s home is burglarized that’s not a violent crime but if they do it multiple times then prison has to be a consequence. You just can’t have a simplistic approach,” said Hutchinson.
Ross said Hutchinson’s portrayal of his plan to include allowing burglars and white collars criminals out of prison is “just plum silly.”
“Does it really make sense that 52 percent of our prison population are folks that are non-violent crimes? That does not mean that some non-violent criminals do not need to be in prison, of course they do. Particularly what I spoke to was about how 42 percent of our inmates today are locked up on drug related charges. I think if it’s a first offense what they really need is drug treatment,” said Ross.
Both gubernatorial candidates agree the state cannot continue to burden county jails with state inmates. Ross said an additional prison might be necessary but only if it’s tied to reforms, such as adding job training programs for inmates. Hutchinson also said additional state prison beds are needed to relieve counties and to keep more people locked up who might otherwise be released early. Hutchinson argued imprisonment itself could be useful in reforming behavior.
Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson both say they want to increase the state’s minimum wage but Hutchinson says he doesn’t have any specific dollar amount in mind. Hutchinson told reporters he’d rather voters not decide on a ballot proposal in November that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, but he does want the legislature to act on the matter next year.
“I would prefer that we not have to force initiated acts by the people to raise the minimum wage but that be done through the legislative process. Why do I prefer that? Because they can do a better…that’s a responsibility first of all, and secondly if you pass an initiated act it takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise it again or to change it,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson said he “might be able” to be more specific on what he thinks is a good minimum wage before the next legislative session, but declined to answer repeated questions from reporters Thursday about what a reasonable minimum wage might be.
Ross said it is appropriate for voters to decide, especially since the legislature has not made headway on the issue since 2006.
“I support raising the minimum wage. Asa Hutchinson does not trust the voters with that decision. He thinks it’s something that a bunch of politicians in Little Rock should decide instead. Well guess what, they’ve had many years to decide and they haven’t,” said Ross.
Ross accused Hutchinson of being vague on a specific minimum wage because Hutchinson is beholden to large corporations.
Neither Libertarian nominee Frank Gilbert or Green Party candidate Josh Drake spoke at the Arkansas Municipal League convention.