Illustrating the governor's message 

  • Brian Chilson

Prison is political. Imprisonment in Arkansas is out of control. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is trying to rein in the politics that are letting our prison rates cripple this state.

Good for him. We have guidelines for this part of government. Politics too often override them.

Here's what the governor said Monday to the state's Legislative Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force: "It's my impression that our [sentencing] guidelines have little teeth, are weakly being followed and don't carry the weight they should."

That's right. And so is this. "To me" he said, "you either need to abolish the sentencing guidelines and say we're not going to have those, or give them some real meaning and teeth. That's the way you correct the system at the beginning and to eliminate some of the disparities that we see in our sentencing."

Our prisons burst with disparities. Eliminating them will take courage. Let's see if the Arkansas Parole Board can heed the governor's message with one matter currently before it.

Last month that board denied parole for Tim Howard, an inmate who has served the time required for him to be eligible for parole. The parole board's written policy states that members must consider 13 factors in deciding whether to grant that parole.

Howard has met or surpassed 12 of those 13 qualifications. His record as a prisoner has been perfect. His health — physical and mental — is good, despite more than a decade in solitary confinement on a conviction since overturned.

The board is supposed to consider his "participation in educational programs." Those were not offered to him on death row. Nevertheless, Howard studied for and obtained his GED while there. Guidelines also require the board to consider an inmate's release plan. People who support Howard and who believe his longstanding claim of innocence presented the board letters assuring that, upon release, Howard would have a job, housing and car provided.

Few inmates seeking parole can hope for such support. Yet the board denied Howard. Why? Because one of the 13 factors the board must consider is this: "Recommendations made by the judge, prosecuting attorney and sheriff of the county from which a person was sentenced, or other interested persons."

The judge in Howard's case wrote a letter to the parole board opposing his parole. At least one other "interested person" did, too. Let us note that "the judge, prosecuting attorney and sheriff" are elected; that is, they hold political positions.

In denying Howard's parole, the board ignored 12 of 13 factors it was required to consider. And the reason for that appears clear.

Hutchinson advised the task force to examine how many cases deviate from state guidelines and to look carefully at the reasons those guidelines were not followed. "That is foundational in making sure we do this right," he said.

Tim Howard is but one prisoner in a prison system that is growing, contrary to trends in other states and despite alarm, such as the governor's, about how much that relentless growth is costing Arkansans. So far, calls to curb that growth have not been heeded.

The governor is dead-right on this. Reducing the state's prison population is "a dollar issue, as well as a human being issue."

At present, dollars and human beings alike are being wasted because politics trump policy. That situation will continue until administrative bodies like the parole board start looking at and following their mandates, rather than catering to local politicians.


Speaking of Tim Howard, Asa Hutchinson


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Mara Leveritt

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas condones child abuse?

    If Harrises and Duggars go unpunished, yes.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Must address racial inequities

    We mourn for the families of the dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As we grieve it's time to rekindle a conversation about race in America and press for the changes that the Emanuel congregation championed for centuries — changes that also made it a target.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Racism is systemic

    In a speech on Sunday at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gov. Asa Hutchinson played directly into the narrative of respectability politics, where white people tell people of color how they should respond to a situation and condemn responses from others in the community experiencing anger, rage and other expressions of grief.
    • Jun 25, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Don't blame trigger warnings

    "Trigger warnings" have recently resurfaced in the news because of a letter from a University of Chicago dean of students that warned incoming freshmen to not expect advance notice of potentially upsetting material in the classroom
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Global health is local health

    First with the 2014 Ebola outbreak and now with the Zika virus, Americans are becoming reacquainted with the fear of infectious disease. But although Ebola and Zika are both serious public health threats, they pale in comparison to three other diseases in terms of inflicting suffering and loss of life around the world — tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge opens veterinary clinic

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge opens veterinary clinic

Eureka Springs non-profit will provide on-site veterinary care to its more than 60 exotic and native large animals.

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • The big loser

    So now the big crybaby says he's losing because his opponent is crooked and the referees are blind.
  • Arkansas 2016: the microclimate election

    In the lead-up to the past four Arkansas election cycles, the forecast has been a fairly simple one: strong winds blowing in the GOP direction.
  • Trumped in Arkansas

    After two solid debates and the release of a video and corroborating testimony that further confirmed the misogyny of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is favored to win the presidential election Nov. 8

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The big loser

    • Ah, yes, Trump the loser - yes, we know all that. But what bothers me…

    • on October 20, 2016
  • Re: Trumped in Arkansas

    • You lump the convict Jim Guy Tucker in with men like Clinton, Fulbright, Rockefeller, Bumpers…

    • on October 20, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • I hope you're right, but it only takes one nut with a gun and a…

    • on October 20, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation