Mara Leveritt offers governor a symbol for sentencing reform | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mara Leveritt offers governor a symbol for sentencing reform

Posted By and on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 12:58 PM

TIM HOWARD: Let him be the governor's symbol for sentencing refeorm. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • TIM HOWARD: Let him be the governor's symbol for sentencing refeorm.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state needs to get serious about sentencing reform if it is to cope with its exploding prison population. Disparate treatment in the justice system leads, among others, to excessive (and expensive) sentences.

Mara Leveritt smashes that stroke right back at the governor with the case of Tim Howard, a former Death Row inmate convicted in a retrial by a jury that believed the sentence it reached qualified Howard for immediate release from prison. It did not.

She writes:

Illustrating the governor’s message

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 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 inmates 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.

Tags: , , , ,


Favorite

Comments (6)

Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-6 of 6

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Two votes for older judges

    The Joint Retirement Committee this morning approved bills that would ease or remove an impediment to state judges continuing to serve after 70 years of age.
    • Mar 18, 2019
  • The latest on that vacant federal judgeship: Focus on a newcomer to Arkansas

    Donald Trump and the Republican Senate have speedily delivered huge numbers of extremist federal judges in two years, making all the more noticeable a lag in filling the opening on the federal Eastern District Court bench created by Judge Leon Holmes' retirement March 31, 2018, almost a year ago. Difficulties in clearing candidates have led now, the rumors go, to the choice of something of an outsider.
    • Mar 18, 2019
  • Legislators may dine free tonight at the Capital Hotel

    What? No free lunch on the schedule today? Not to worry. Legislators can load up on quality free eats and drinks tonight at the Capital Hotel.
    • Mar 18, 2019
  • More »

More by Mara Leveritt

  • Who's afraid of Barry Seal?

    The 'true lie' behind Tom Cruise's new film on the notorious drug-trafficker-turned-federal-informant who operated out of Arkansas.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • Illustrating the governor's message

    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.
    • Dec 3, 2015
  • Parole board hears arguments on parole for Tim Howard

    The hard-fought battle over the fate of former death-row inmate Tim Howard intensified on Thursday when John Felts, chairman of the Arkansas Parole Board, held a hearing at Cummins prison to consider Howard’s eligibility for parole.
    • Oct 9, 2015
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Sabin's subterfuge in the race for mayor has roots in rigged city government

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that an ethics complaint has been filed saying that the exploratory committee Rep. Warwick Sabin created to prepare for a run for Little Rock mayor was a subterfuge to avoid the city ordinance that doesn't allow campaign fundraising to begin until five months before the November 2018 election.Of course it is.
    • Aug 10, 2017
  • Use of solar on the rise in Arkansas

    With a pivotal ruling expected any day now from the Public Service Commission, Kyle Massey at Arkansas Business reports on the increase in Arkansans adding solar generation units on their homes and business.
    • Apr 13, 2018
  • Antwan Phillips wants to make a difference in reducing Little Rock violence

    KARK/Fox 16's push to do something about Little Rock violence includes a spotlight on people trying to make a difference — in this episode Antwan Phillips, a lawyer at Wright, Lindsey and Jennings.
    • Aug 30, 2017

Slideshows

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation