- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday said a 2011 law aimed at curbing Arkansas’ prison population should be adjusted, as he called for increased funding to hire more parole officers.

Unveiling a series of proposals to address public safety and drug crimes, Hutchinson called for the changes to the sentencing overhaul bill approved by the Legislature three years ago.

“Arkansas cannot achieve its objectives in job creation and economic development without having a workforce that is drug-free and also streets and cities and communities that are safe from violent crimes,” Hutchinson said in a news conference at his campaign headquarters.

Hutchinson said his plan would cost at least $1.3 million a year, with $1 million of that going toward hiring more parole officers and $300,000 going toward new re-entry programs for parolees.

Hutchinson said he doesn’t want to repeal a state law that reduced sentences for some lower-level offenses and expanded the state’s probation and parole programs. He said he wants to change some of the sentencing guidelines on drug offenses and theft to give prosecutors more flexibility.

“We’re going to have to go back and re-tweak it, re-adjust it and we have to be willing to take a second look at it,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also proposed extending the period of time that parole can be revoked, a move he said would hold parole violators accountable. Hutchinson said he would also support funding for new prison space, saying he believed the changes he’s advocating would lead to an increase in the number of inmates.

“In the short term, there will be a spike in incarceration and the need for prison space,” he said. “We have to wait and see that, hopefully, the increased accountability and supervision will cause that spike to go down and changes behavior.”

Hutchinson, an ex-congressman and former Homeland Security official, won the GOP nomination in last week’s primary. He faces Democratic nominee Mike Ross, a fellow former congressman. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is unable to run for re-election because of term limits.

Ross’ campaign said he planned to unveil proposals addressing public safety, parole and prisons in the coming months.

“As a former quorum court member, state senator and U.S. Congressman, Mike Ross has a strong record of being tough on crime and supporting our law enforcement community and first responders, which is why 65 of the state’s 75 county sheriffs have endorsed Mike Ross and his campaign for Arkansas’s future,” Ross spokesman Brad Howard said in an email.


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