From the beginning of the Maurice Clemmons clemency discussion, liberals have urged compassion for Mike Huckabee's role in freeing the man who's believed to have killed four law officers. But conservatives, too, have raised questions about a no-mercy prison system. Today it's the New York Times' Ross Douthat talking about the ills of mass incarceration with no emphasis on rehabilitation.
Mass incarceration was a successful public-policy tourniquet. But now that we’ve stopped the bleeding, it can’t be a permanent solution.
This doesn’t require a return to the liberal excuse-making of the ’60s and ’70s. Nor does it require every governor to issue frequent pardons. (A capricious mercy doesn’t further the cause of justice.)
Instead, it requires a more sophisticated crime-fighting approach — an emphasis, for instance, on making sentences swifter and more certain, even as we make them shorter; a system of performance metrics for prisons and their administrators; a more stringent approach to probation and parole.
One liberal commentator over the weekend even called for "clemency for Mike Huckabee" in criticism of his role in the Clemmons case. Indeed, Huckabee's willingness to consider clemency was one of the attractive features of his governance. But here's his continuing political problem. He exercised the power poorly. He was influenced by friends, relatives, campaign contributions and other unsound factors. His decisions were arbitrary. He made more than one spectacularly bad decision, including the Clemmons case. And more, I believe, is yet to be revealed about why Huckabee singled out a multiple violent offender with a terrible prison disciplinary record for clemency. And why his parole board extended him another try at freedom when Clemmons robbed again.