March 9, 2007
Candidate Huckabee's crime and punishment skeleton
As regular readers know, I am already following the 2008 presidential campaign with an eye focused on crime and punishment issues. Thus, I was pleased when an old friend sent me this fascinating Salon piece discussing the prospects of Republican candidate Mike Huckabee. Though the whole article is a great read, this is the passage that should really intrugue sentencing fans:
By far, Huckabee's most glaring mistake goes by the name of Wayne DuMond, a paroled rapist who murdered a woman after being released. DuMond's story is Southern Gothic, the Dukes of Hazzard meets John Grisham. He was a Vietnam veteran with a violent past and six children. In 1984, he was accused of raping a high school student in Forrest City, Ark., a town named for a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. The student happened to be a distant cousin of then-Gov. Bill Clinton, and the daughter of an influential local mortician. While DuMond was awaiting trial, two men broke into his home, hogtied and castrated him. The local sheriff, Coolidge Conlee, later displayed the testicles, floating in formaldehyde, for visitors to his office.
A mangled DuMond was eventually sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole. But the distant Clinton affiliation soon turned his case into a cause. Right-wing radio hosts and columnists decried the severe sentence. They raised questions about the lack of DNA evidence, and railed against the small-town justice system, which never prosecuted DuMond's attackers. During the 1992 presidential campaign, while Clinton was traveling out of state, Tucker commuted DuMond's sentence to allow for the possibility of parole. When Huckabee became governor, he publicly announced that he intended to commute DuMond's sentence to time served. "My desire is that you be released from prison," he wrote DuMond in a letter. Before Huckabee signed any papers, the state parole board approved the prisoner's release. Two years later, DuMond murdered a woman in Missouri and later died in jail.
The case presents Huckabee with a clear problem, along the lines of Willie Horton, the furloughed rapist who helped sink the 1988 campaign of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis. The attack ad almost writes itself: Huckabee, egged on by right-wingers, worked to free a rapist who murdered again. When I bring up the issue, the former Baptist minister becomes defensive and tries to place the blame elsewhere. "Jim Guy Tucker commuted this guy's sentence to make him parole eligible," Huckabee says, as we sit in the back of the minivan. "Clinton knew it, Tucker did it, and now they try to blame me for it." In 2002, several members of the parole board told the Arkansas Times that the governor had actively advocated for DuMond's release behind the scenes. Huckabee calls this a lie, but he acknowledges he made a public appeal for the parole. "And I certainly regret that, in light of what happened," he says.
But the DuMond debacle also provides a window into Huckabee's approach as he begins his run for president. He has refused to take the predictable path by talking tough on crime to deflect the DuMond criticism. Instead, he campaigns on a compassionate approach to wrongdoers, especially those whose crimes are the result of drug or alcohol addiction. At Philly's Finest, he condemned the "revenge-based corrections system," sounding every bit the sort of squishy liberal that the Bill O'Reillys of the world long ago scared into the shadows. "We lock up a lot of people we are mad at rather than the ones we are really afraid of," he said. "We incarcerate more people than anybody on earth." As governor, Huckabee pushed for drug treatment instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders. He pushed for faith-based prison programs, and was critical of governors who "gladly pull the switch" on death penalty cases, an apparent knock on President Bush, who was criticized as governor of Texas for being cavalier about capital punishment.
March 9, 2007 at 10:36 AM | Permalink
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Maybe the way this guy was treated (possibly wrongly accused, castrated with his attackers not prosecuted and the local executive branch displaying his testicles in a jar, then being sent to prison for life) caused the guy to go nuts and ultimately kill someone when given some sympathy later on.
Posted by: Bruce | Mar 9, 2007 11:04:52 AM
Maybe, maybe not. We'll never know. But the lesson here is that releasing people is a dangerous business.
Posted by: federalist | Mar 9, 2007 12:29:32 PM
"the lesson here is that releasing people is a dangerous business"
Dangerous compared to what? Spending money on indiscriminate incarceration so that there is inadequate funding for policing or diversion programs that might prevent lots of crimes? Keeping people incarcerated for so long that when they max out they are entirely unemployable, have learned and had reinforced really bad behaviors in prison, and are all the more likely to commit crimes?
There are real social costs to incarceration, not to mention the fiscal costs that so many communities are feeling. In Michigan, for example, the state's fiscal situation is requiring budgetary "cuts to corrections that mean closing prisons and releasing prisoners."
Even the Republicans are taking the position that "more cuts should be made rather than raising taxes." https://www.wilx.com/news/headlines/6390137.html
So those who deal in the reality-based world realize that opposing every release from prison is simplistic, at best.
Posted by: David in NY | Mar 9, 2007 3:35:22 PM
I agree that incarceration for incarceration's sake is not a good idea. The bottom line is that a prison bed is a scarce resource and should be used wisely. In addition, the building of a prison bed means something else didn't get built.
That said, giving parole to violent offenders is rolling the dice, and someone wound up dead. That should give pause. There is something arrogant about Huckabee's stance--an idea that he's not sullying his hands. Dealing with crime is a tough tough issue. And, the bottom line is that while he can criticize Dubya all he wants, we know that a decision of Huckabee led to the death of an innocent.
I think that the ex-Governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, probably had the best approach to clemency.
Posted by: federalist | Mar 9, 2007 4:51:57 PM
You're right, federalist, releasing people is dangerous. Which is why all criminals should always receive life prison sentences without the possibility of parole or, better yet, the death penalty. That way, we don't have to worry about it.
I wonder how those right wingers feel about pressuring Clinton to release the guy. Tough on crime, unless the victim is related to their boogieman.
Posted by: Anon | Mar 9, 2007 11:32:58 PM
the three strike law is administered on an ad hoc, totally arbitrary basis. Which runs afoul of a due process guarantee to be free from capricious, arbitrary punishment, which would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
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