It's Hard to Make the Case for Clemency
In case you've been out of the loop during the break: On Sunday, a guy named Maurice Clemmons ambushed and killed four cops in a Washington state...
In case you've been out of the loop during the break: On Sunday, a guy named Maurice Clemmons ambushed and killed four cops in a Washington state coffee shop. He harbored a hatred for law enforcement and it's becoming clear that he was also pretty crazy. It's a tragic thing.Clemmons, who, I should probably say, is technically still a suspect at this point, had a history of violence. He was given a 95-year prison sentence in Arkansas at age 17 for a crime spree that included aggravated robbery, but was pardoned by then-Governor Mike Huckabee in 2000.This is not good for the political career of Mike Huckabee. But, as Jason Zengerle notes over at The New Republic, it's even worse for people in Arkansas prisons who hope to be granted clemency in the future. When someone gets pardoned and then goes on to do something horrible like this, it makes for easy political sniping. The Willie Horton pardon more or less killed Michael Dukakis's presidential bid. Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe isn't likely to be doing much more pardoning in the future.The appropriate response to this situation, according to the laws of political opportunism, is to clamp down on clemency and promise harsh prison sentences. But it will only make things worse if we, the public, are fooled by simplistic arguments that leniency is the problem with the criminal justice system. As of 2005, our state prisons held 253,000 inmates for drug offenses, at a daily cost of $17,110,415. Now consider that psychopaths (and Clemmons kind of sounds like one) are more likely to be granted parole because they're good at tricking inexperienced evaluators. If we could get more lenient on nonviolent drug crime and funnel some of those savings into better rehabilitation and evaluation programs in prison, we could save money while improving our ability to identify the most dangerous potential reoffenders.Until we start letting pre-cogs predict future crimes, Minority Report-style, we'll always have to tolerate some recidivism, but this guy Clemmons was clearly misjudged and should have been behind bars. That said, the case of Clemmons isn't an argument against clemency. It's an argument for making better judgments about individual inmates.