State Democratic lawmakers call for minimum sentencing laws - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

State Democratic lawmakers call for minimum sentencing laws

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JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Several state Democratic legislators wondered aloud Friday how to fix a justice system that's reportedly broken.

Seven state representatives from Northeast Arkansas held a news conference Friday afternoon in Jonesboro, where they stated their intent to fix the problem.

The representatives included Scott Baltz (D-Pocahontas), Mary Broadaway (D-Paragould), Harold Copenhaver (D-Jonesboro), Joe Jett (D-Success), Homer Lenderman (D-Brookland), James Ratliff (D-Imboden) and Butch Wilkins (D-Bono).

They claim that the state's justice system is broken because many offenders get out of prison early and then commit more crimes. To remedy that, they're now calling for renewed efforts to set minimum sentencing laws.

"We want to put an end to a system where criminals are serving small amounts of time to which they are sentenced before being placed back into our communities," said Rep. Baltz during his prepared remarks.

The lawmakers said there's a growing concern statewide about parolees serving only a portion of their sentence and then getting out and committing more crimes.

"These parolees understand the system," Rep. Copenhaver said. "They're not serving their time, and they're coming back and forth into the system. And as the progress goes with those parolees in most circumstances, they are increasing the violence of these crimes."

Rep. Broadaway used Darrell Dennis as an example for reform. Little Rock police accuse Dennis, a parolee, of killing an 18-year-old man after he was released from jail in May.

"We have got to do something to impress upon offenders that if you do the crime, you're going to do the crime," she said. "I know that's so cliché, but it's true.

"We want to instill confidence in the public," she added, "because I think that we don't have that, or we're losing it. It's important for people to know that their elected officials are concerned, that they want us to do something about this."

While the lawmakers offered no specific plans Friday, they hope to set minimum sentencing guidelines for certain crimes. They argued that doing so would not come at an increased cost to the state despite the fact that more people would likely stay longer in correctional facilities. 

The sheriffs from Craighead, Poinsett, Clay and Randolph Counties attended the news conference to show their support for this effort, too. 

"First-time offenders, there's some other avenues that we can look at," said Marty Boyd, the Craighead County sheriff, "but for repeat offenders and violent offenders, I think a 10-year sentence should be a 10-year sentence."

The state legislature cannot pass any new laws until 2015, but the Democratic lawmakers said Friday that in the meantime, they're going to study this problem and come up with some solutions.

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