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December 2, 2009

Might poor re-entry services and risk assessment tools be most to blame for the Clemmons tragedy?

It is not surprising that we all want to place blame somewhere for the horrific and tragic murderous acts by cop-killer Maurice Clemmons.  And, as we have seen this week, plenty of folks are willing (and sometimes eager) to allocate blame in all sorts of direction.  But the more I think about this case and hear details about Mike Huckabee's 2000 clemency decision, the more I want to be sure some blame gets directed toward the poor state of modern re-entry services and the inadequate use of sophisticated risk assessment tools.

This potent local articleabout Clemmons, which is headlined "Four days in May set stage for Sunday's tragedy," highlights the basic facts behind this part of the blame story.  It begins this way:

Over four days in May, Maurice Clemmons' behavior and mental state deteriorated. Family members worried he had gone crazy, that he was verging on collapse.  His conduct became so erratic — punching a sheriff's deputy, forcing relatives to strip naked, according to police reports — that authorities eventually charged him with eight felonies, including one count of child rape.

Still, at the end of those four days, Clemmons wound up on the loose — a delusional man with a propensity for violence, who had managed to escape the grip of authorities.  What happened in those four days — and in the months that followed — reflects a system governed by formula and misguided incentives.

That legal system, both in Arkansas and Washington, failed to account for the entirety of Clemmons' violence and his disdain for the law.  Individual crimes, viewed in isolation, trumped a long and disturbing pattern of warning signs.  As a result, Clemmons walked out of jail Nov. 23.  A week later, he was on the run again — this time accused of shooting and killing four Lakewood police officers in a Parkland coffee shop, in one of the most horrific crimes in Puget Sound history.

These realities reinforce my view that states and the federal government still needs to do a much better job with criminal justice resources and technology in a continuous effort to sort out and monitor which past offenders present the greatest risk to public safety (and which ones do not).  Though we will never be perfect at figuring out who is most dangerous, we can and should do much better and we should respond to this tragedy by making a concerted effort to do better. 

Against this backdrop, I think we also should not be too quick to lay blame principally on Huckabee for what seems to have been an understandable clemency call back in 2000.  We should instead ask hard questions about whether improved re-entry services and risk-assessment tools could have helped ensure that releasing Clemmons back in 2000 still did not necessarily mean he would later have had a chance to commit his final horrific crimes.

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December 2, 2009 at 11:54 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Dec 2, 2009 6:47:30 PM


Paranoid schizophrenics murder 2000 people a year. Thank the Supreme Court. Involuntary commitment and treatment was based on need prior to 1976. There was very little abuse in the two physician certificate system, and plenty of Draconian recourse for a doctor acting in bad faith. The Supreme Court decided to take over mental health with legal procedure. Now you had a trial with jobs for three lawyers, the prosecutor, the defense, and the judge. They established burdens of proof, and lengthy hearings. They required that a harm had to have occurred during the untreated condition.

V Tech's Cho, Washington's Clemmons. Now they qualify for involuntary commitment and treatment.

Most catastrophes have a cluster of around a dozen factors. That is modern view of catastrophes. Omit any single one, and the entire catastrophe fails to happen. It would be a good idea for a serious study body to list these, and to not omit the irresponsible, rent seeking decision of the rent seeking lawyers on the SC of 1975.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2009 1:30:15 PM

When people say, re-entry programs, that means what?

It means massive government funded social services. I thought simultaneous translation was needed here.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2009 1:32:49 PM


Your lack of practical experience in criminal justice matters is evident with this post. Clemmons was twice released from custody on bail--on May 10 after somehow posting 10% or $4000.00 cash and again on November 23 after inexplicably being able to make a $190,000 bond courtesy of a lovely organization termed "Jail Sucks Bail Bonds".

Reentry services and risk assessment tools are not in play in most state courts in the setting of bail. The salient factor is what type of risk one is to appear for the next court date.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 2, 2009 2:25:31 PM

I would have to put the blame on the man who pulled the trigger, Mr. Clemmons. I understand people's reasoning for blaming Huckabee directly or indirectly, but he did have a legal right to make the decision that he made. I think that we need to put the blame on the man that made the decision to kill four police officers doing their jobs.

Posted by: Disability Insurance | Dec 2, 2009 2:39:47 PM

Prisoner re-entry services = soft on crime

Posted by: rageahol | Dec 2, 2009 2:58:50 PM

I think you've essentailly made my point, mjs, when you say "reentry services and risk assessment tools are not in play in most state courts in the setting of bail." I am suggesting that, if we were really committed to public safety, reentry services and risk assessment tools would be a part of state-court bail decision-making.

As for the view that reentry services means "massive government funded social services," I wonder if that is also how people describe modern prisons. In those prisons, states pay completely for the housing, health care, feeding and entertainment of offenders. I would like to spend those dollars instead trying to help offenders become productive tax-paying members of society. For some people, that may be impossible, but for others I think it could/should be a wise investment. Certainly current budget crises in most states show we are not getting a healthy bang for our buck from mass incarceration.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 2, 2009 3:15:32 PM

Statutorily, bail decisions focus on risk of flight or non-appearance. Federal courts can consider any danger posed to the community and will sometimes factor treatment services into the bail equation. I don't think many state systems go beyond risk of flight. The abomination known as "Booking Bail" whereby defendants such as Clemmons can be released from custody over weekends or holidays without facing a judicial officer is hopefully confined to the state of Washington. Whoever was responsible for implementing that iniquity should have their bail (or job) revoked!

Posted by: mjs | Dec 2, 2009 4:08:19 PM

"Against this backdrop, I think we also should not be too quick to lay blame principally on Huckabee for what seems to have been an understandable clemency call back in 2000."


Posted by: federalist | Dec 2, 2009 5:07:03 PM

Here is a lawyer news flash. There is no chain of causation. That is Scholasticism, and not a fact of nature. God could intervene, and change the future, being all knowing. Not even the Medieval church believed man could do that. The lawyer has that nutty belief as a central doctrine of torts.

The modern view of catastrophe is one of a clustering of factors coming together at a time and place. The big factors, the small factors, prevent any one of them, and there is no catastrophe. So the modern analysis posits that all the factors had the same power of prevention. From Huckabee, to the slacking of police in a coffee shop, when they should have been busting heads in bad neighborhoods. List them all, prevent one, no catastrophe.

Does any tort lawyer even understand what I just said? Any lawyer at all? It is from high school statistics.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2009 11:41:21 PM

Correction. That is not from high school statistics. It is from high school driver's education.


It is worth everyone's while to go to that page, and to look at the man in the picture in the upper left of the page. Who is that at the wheel? The name starts with an H. Ends with an ee.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 2, 2009 11:47:23 PM

It is a physical fact. The criminal in a cage does not commit his 100's of crimes a year, and does not devastate family, neighborhood, property values, city, nor nation.

Spend the same $40,000 on outside programs, and you get the cost plus uncertainty about the commission of 100's crimes a year, even in the most responsive, cooperative parolee. You are saying, treatment can overcome the positive reinforcing pleasures of sex predatory behavior, violent revenge for small slights, the easy, risk free money shower of serial robberies. That is very unlikely in the very selfish, fearless, aggressive, impulsive people who end up in prison. Naturally, these folks care about their families and neighbors. So as their wealth increase, they share. The families and neighbors are likely to protect the source of their pleasures.

Let's not forget the great pleasures of illegal drugs and alcohol. Half the perps and half the victims of violent crime are legally intoxicate. No alcohol in prison, or at least less alcohol in prison. That factor alone will cut crime in half.

As taxpayer and owner of the law, I say, I will gladly pay my taxes to house the vicious predator.

The better solution is 123D. But, no one here will even consider that lawyer customer killing proposal.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 3, 2009 12:58:23 AM

The idea that "re-entry services" could have headed this off is somewhere between utterly undocumented and amazingly naive.

This guy gunned down, point-blank and in the coldest blood you can imagine, four cops simply because they were cops. The notion that a person so brimming with hate could be dissuaded by the right amount of "counseling" is beyond incredible.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 3, 2009 8:01:23 PM

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