The race for U.S. Senate in Arkansas played out Monday at the Winter Conference of the state Sheriffs’ Association with incumbent Republican John Boozman and Democrat Conner Eldridge seeing close to eye to eye on mandatory sentencing laws. The two glad-handed and worked a room at the Marriott hotel in downtown Little Rock.
Eldridge, a former US Attorney, told KUAR some mandatory minimums may warrant re-evaluation.
“For non-violent, first-time drug offenders there ought to be some consideration as to the most realistic and best punishment for those offenders,” said Eldridge.
Senator Boozman also said to KUAR there may be room to reconsider some mandatory minimum sentences.
“If you’ve got somebody that’s a very low-level criminal that hasn’t participated in a violent crime, and there are instances of those, then we need to fix that,” said Senator Boozman.
On Monday morning POLITICO reported that Arkansas’s freshman US Senator Tom Cotton is at the forefront of an effort to stop sentencing reforms. During President Barack Obama’s final state of the union address he challenged Congress to work together on criminal justice reform. Cotton is at odds with some in his own party including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Frank Gilbert the Libertarian Party candidate for Senator Boozman’s seat is less ambiguous than his two opponents about his stance of mandatory minimums needing changes.
“Mandatory sentencing is one of those troubling intrusions into the judiciary by the legislature and the executive branch. I prefer to allow judges more discretion when sentencing. Every case and every defendant is unique. If a judge is corrupt or just has bad judgment we should work to correct that, not tie the hands of every judge everywhere,” said Gilbert in a statement.
Hundreds of law enforcement members were at the winter meeting in Little Rock and Senator Boozman said he picked-up on the need for more mental health assistance as an outstanding concern.
“Something that they brought up that I think is so very important, that they deal with everyday in our county jails, is the mental health issue. We have a lot of people that are just depressed and there’s no beds for them in hospitals and they end up in the county jail,” said Boozman.
Eldridge said what he heard from sheriffs on Monday reinforced what he came to believe as a US Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas from 2010-2015.
“It’s important to make sure that we have a strong voice for law enforcement. That covers a whole lot of issues [such as] making sure that the worst offenders have lengthy prison terms that prosecutors can use to put them in prison for a long time,” said Eldridge. “That’s the fundamental responsibility that I shared as US Attorney with sheriffs.
Gilbert, the former mayor of Tull and a constable in Grant County, said protecting local control is one way a Congressman can assist sheriffs departments.
“I know how federal and state legislation can impact local law enforcement. I would listen to their needs and suggestions and would gladly carry their water when it came to confronting federal overreach,” said the Libertarian nominee.
Senator Boozman’s GOP primary opponent Curtis Coleman did not respond to a request for comment.