11:15 a.m. update
Gubernatorial candidates Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross described their ideas for overhauling Arkansas's criminal justice system Thursday during a moderated appearance at a convention of the Arkansas Municipal League.
Ross, a Democrat, and Hutchinson, a Republican, responded after being asked by Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola about the "crisis" in Arkansas developing from a large backlog of state inmates being held in county jails because of a lack of prison space to house them. Stodola, the vice president of the league, co-moderated the discussion between the candidates alongside league president and Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree.
Hutchinson talked of a plan he has previously proposed calling for $1 million to develop drug treatment courts and $300,000 for programs to help inmates reintegrate into society upon release. But, he said, solving the state's problems would most likely require new prison space.
"The first thing we have to do is recognize in Arkansas we do have a crime problem," Hutchinson said. "We don't talk about it enough. We need to address it. The first starting point is adequate jail space."
Ross said he believes the state will likely have to add at least 1,000 more prison beds, but said continuing to add more prison space isn't a sustainable plan.
"Arkansas and the taxpayers can't afford to continue to do that year after year after year," he said. "Any new prison we build there needs to be some prison reforms tied to that."
Among those reforms, Ross called for alternative programs available for first-time or drug offenders; keeping space available in prisons for violent offenders; job training for prisoners; and a program that could potentially provide a tax credit for employers if they hire offenders after their release.
Hutchinson countered that the state needs to have prison space available for nonviolent and drug offenders who don't live up to the terms of alternative programs or who consistently reoffend.
"If someone commits three or four burglaries, it might just be a property crime, but I want them to go to prison," he said.
Ross and Hutchinson were asked about several topics during the 45-minute conversation, or "non-debate" as Ross called it at one point, including tax policy, unfunded mandates from state government to local municipalities and what level of government should handle land-use and zoning restrictions.
Arkansas gubernatorial candidates Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson are both scheduled to address the annual convention of the Arkansas Municipal League in Little Rock.
The convention began Wednesday and runs through Friday. The political forum is Thursday morning.
Ross is the Democratic nominee and Hutchinson represents the Republican Party. They are to give their speeches, starting at 10 a.m., followed by other candidates for constitutional offices.
Organizers say the convention will feature numerous workshop sessions on issues of interest to city government, including emergency preparedness, avoiding lawsuits, land use challenges and other topics.
More than 1,200 municipal officials and other participants are expected to attend.
— The Associated Press
Information for this article was contributed by Gavin Lesnick of Arkansas Online and by The Associated Press.