Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross announced Tuesday morning his plan for reducing crime in Arkansas.
Ross revealed the plan in a news conference at his campaign headquarters in Little Rock.
"One of our government’s most fundamental responsibilities is to ensure public safety. When you have safe communities, you have prosperous communities,” Ross said.
Part of his plan calls for toughening sentences for repeat and violent offenders and cracking down on child abuse by increasing funding for the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division.
"Over the past several months, I have consulted with law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, policy makers and victim advocates to develop a plan to reduce crime in Arkansas,” he said.
Ross said his plan will help ease the prison overcrowding situation and tackle issues of domestic violence and child abuse in the state.
“We will get smarter about how we sentence certain first-time, nonviolent and drug offenders and crack down on those who abuse children and [we will] enact historic measures to protect and empower survivors of domestic violence in Arkansas,” he said.
Ross said he plans to work with the legislature to pass the “Protecting and Empowering Survivors of Domestic Violence Act,” which is a series of new laws to help survivors of domestic violence.
A statewide database of orders of protection would be created, Ross said, and it would be accessible by any law enforcement or court official in the state of Arkansas. He also plans on establishing a “lethality assessment program” to train law enforcement officers who respond to domestic violence situations.
Another part of the act would allow survivors of domestic violence to terminate lease agreements without penalty after providing documentation in an attempt to flee or hide from abusive partners, Ross said.
Funding for domestic violence shelters is provided through the state’s Domestic Peace Fund, which receives revenue from marriage licenses and bail bond fees, Ross said.
“Fewer marriages and changes in bail bond practices, combined with reduction in state and federal grants have lead to severe budget shortfalls for many of our state’s domestic violence shelters, forcing some to even close,” he said.
To increase funding for the Domestic Peace Fund and the act, Ross said his plan would require criminals to pay a special court fee from each conviction of certain abuse or domestic violence-related crimes, which would be added to the fund.
“The fee would be $150 for each misdemeanor conviction, and $300 for each felony conviction,” he said. “As part of the increase in revenue, my plan will also authorize the use of the Domestic Peace Fund revenue to fund projects and programs that better train Arkansas law enforcement to effectively handle incidents of child abuse, rape and domestic violence.”
He also said he plans on directing the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence to publish a biannual report on domestic violence in Arkansas to raise awareness.
Ross said he also would like to increase the annual funding for the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division to $1.28 million.
Funding for alternative sentencing would gradually increase by $8.5 million over four years with Ross’s plan, he said. This funding would be used to hire more probation and parole officers and better use alternative sentencing, such as electronic monitoring and re-entry programs.
Ross said he hopes to add two law enforcement representatives to the Arkansas Sentencing Commission. The commission establishes sentencing standards and monitors the impact of practices, polices and existing laws of the correctional resources of the state, according to its website.
Ross served in the Nevada County Quorum Court from 1983 to 1985 and was chief of staff to former Lt. Gov. Winston Bryant from 1985 to 1989. He served as a a state senator from 1990 to 2000, and was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served until 2012.
Read more about this story in Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.