Free pass for state inmates possible

===Prisons are overcrowded, but the Legislature is not ignoring the problem. At least two bills address the challenge of crowded jails, but neither bill calls for building more prisons.
=== One bill, sponsored by Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, would reduce the mandatory sentence for small-time meth manufacturers from 10 years to three years if they're not repeat offenders and don't have at least 5 grams of meth when they're busted. The bill would no longer require that they serve a minimum of 70 percent of their sentence.
=== Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Faris, D-Malvern, would let in-mates apply for clemency more often – every couple of years instead of the current four years. Victims' rights advocates, who have fought for the four-year wait, don't want that changed. Nor do they want the 70 percent requirement for prison sentences dropped.
=== The drug bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday by a 4-3 vote. Its sponsor says people who make meth only for themselves are less dangerous than big-time dealers.
=== "We're busting addicts when we should be busting dealers," Critcher told us Tuesday. "We should be separating addicts from dealers."
=== But Bilenda-Harris Ritter, an attorney who understands the criminal justice system about as well as anybody, thinks Critcher's and Faris' bills are both wrong-headed. Referring to Critcher's meth bill, she said,
=== "It sounds like someone trying to address the overcrowding of prisons. I do not think reduced sentences are the right way to address that. "Meth is one of the worst things to happen to our society, and just reducing sentences will send those convicted back to the same career path that is so destructive of society and especially our youth."
=== "When inmates get out, they more often than not commit additional crimes," she said. As for letting inmates petition for clemency every couple of years, Harris-Ritter says, "This is not the way to address overcrowding in prisons – especially as it relates to murderers."
===Harris-Ritter's parents were murdered in Arkansas, and she's often had to fly here from California to fight clemency petitions from her parents' killer.
=== "Many of the clemency requests are frivolous, so they are not going to get granted anyway," she continued. "This will cause a huge backlog in the governor's office and also at the Post-Prison Transfer Board.
=== "If the legislature really wants to address overcrowding, then there needs to be a way of convicts learning skill sets that help them be productive when they are back in our communities so they do not fall back on crime as a means of survival – then they don't come back.
=== "I do believe that there needs to be measures taken instead to make convicts productive members of society after they have served their full sentences.
=== "I know there is a program, I think in California, where some in-mates train search-and-rescue dogs. It teaches a skill and responsibility. Obviously they are highly screened, but it shows that there can be some really creative things done."
=== Creativity in the Arkansas prisons system? We let them out so the police can arrest them again. Sad but true.

--- Past Articles

Prosecutors seek more openness on pardons

___When you talk to prosecutors around the state, many of them will tell you they're unhappy that Gov. Huckabee pardons criminals without letting law-enforcement officials or victims' families know why he's doing it, as he's required by law.

Huckabee, prosecutors go on offensive
___They trade jabs over sentencing, pardoning of killers, other thugs

___Several prosecutors around the state are upset with Gov. Huckabee for grant- ing clemency to violent criminals, but he is blaming the prosecutors for often not seeking the maximum penalty and keeping felons locked up longer.

B.B. goes home then to funeral
___B.B. King didn't seem his usual old self last weekend when he was performing in his hometown of Indianola, Miss.
___ He put on two fine shows in one evening, but he seemed a bit distracted.

Clintons in lovefest with Bush
___If there's anything more unappealing than watching politicians mud wrestle, it's watching them pretend they like each other.
___Oozing insincerity, Presi-dent Bush praised his predecessor on Monday during an unveiling of the Clintons' official (and utterly mediocre) White House portraits.

World-class blues played near here
___A couple of great blues musicians showed up at Sticky Fingerz in Little Rock on Thursday night.
___ Michael Burks, probably Arkansas' most talented young bluesman, dropped in to catch Deborah Coleman and her band and he was impressed.

What if...
Reagan had won in '76
___Millions of words and thousands of images have filled newspapers and television screens since the passing of Ronald Reagan on Saturday.
___Friends, colleagues, politicians and scholars have discussed every facet of his remarkable life: How he started out poor, became a Holly-wood star, found a second career on television, then a third as a corporate spokesman, and yet another, more spectacular career as a politician.
___ His life has been thoroughly examined this week, but one crucial period and its consequences are virtually overlooked: His losing out to President Ford for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 1976, which, it could be argued, helped the Soviets stay in power for several more years. [FULL STORY]

These Vets couldn't go to unveiling
___Uncle Albert Jonikas couldn't make it to the dedication of the World War II memorial over the weekend.
___He's an 84-year-old veteran of the Second World War who saw action in the Pacific - Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa, which was near where the Japanese surrendered - but he doesn't get around much anymore. [FULL STORY]