Huckabee Weighs in on Commutation (Again)

Via Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft, I see that former Presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has an op-ed out in the Washington Post further explaining his decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons (discussed earlier at Co-Op here and here.)

The op-ed, and Jeralyn’s post, are worth a read in their entirety, but here are the key points from Huckabee’s piece:

Between 1,000 and 1,200 requests for some form of clemency came to my desk each and every year of the 10 and a half years I was governor. An overwhelming majority of the time, I denied the requests. When I did grant them, it was based on the recommendations of all five of the members of the PPTB [the Post Prison Transfer Board], with consideration given to input from public officials and my own personal review of each and every file.

Maurice Clemmons was 16 years old when he committed the crimes of burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to a total of 108 years in prison, dramatically outside the norm for sentencing for the crimes he committed and the age at which he committed them.

In 2000, the PPTB unanimously recommended that his sentence be commuted after he had already served 11 years in prison. As per the recommendation, I commuted his sentence to the term of 47 years (still a long sentence in comparison to others for the type of crime he had committed), making him parole eligible. It did not parole him, as governors do not have that power in Arkansas. He would have to separately apply for parole and meet the criteria for it.

Three months after the commutation, Clemmons met the criteria for parole and was paroled to supervision in late 2000. When he violated the terms of his parole, he was returned to prison and should have remained behind bars. For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, he ended up dropping the charges, allowing Clemmons to leave prison and return to supervised parole.

Clemmons moved to his native Washington State and engaged in intermittent criminal activity that increased in violence and frequency. He was arrested on charges of raping a child, yet was allowed to post bail in Washington. While out on bail, he committed the unspeakable acts of murdering four valiant police officers.

Based on Huckabee’s account, his clemency decision in this case does not seem extraordinary or unusual.  Similarly, while I don’t have the statistics before me, my bet is that the 11 years Clemmons served is probably closer to the average (or higher than the average) sentence that a 16-year-old convicted of burglary and robbery would receive.

In short, as Jeralyn concludes, the prosecutor’s decision not to pursue charges on the parole violation and the failure to heed warning signs that Clemmons was mentally ill indicate that perhaps we should be looking at the support and oversight of parolees or at our mental health system, rather than at Huckabee, if we want to try and prevent tragedies like this one in the future .  Of course, the prosecutor was not a former candidate for President.  And thinking about the systemic shortcomings of our mental health and corrections systems is hard work.  So I guess that the focus on playing the political blame game with Huckabee shouldn’t be all that surprising (even if it is disappointing) given our current media climate.

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