State Democratic lawmakers call for minimum sentencing laws

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

Seven state representatives from Northeast Arkansas held anews conference Friday afternoon in Jonesboro, where they stated their intentto 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 ButchWilkins (D-Bono).

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

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

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

"These parolees understand the system," Rep. Copenhaversaid. "They're not serving their time, and they're coming back and forth intothe 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 afterhe was released from jail in May.

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

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

While the lawmakers offered no specific plans Friday, theyhope 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 fromCraighead, Poinsett, Clay and Randolph Counties attended the news conference toshow their support for this effort, too.

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

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

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