Early Release of Prisoners is Not Prison Reform

In a recent editorial defending Mike Huckabee’s commutation of accused cop killer, Maurice Clemmons, the LA Times stated, “..in Clemmons’ case, he seems to have had legitimate grounds for concern about whether justice was being served…It’s unreasonable to expect Huckabee to have anticipated the events in Parkland nine years later.”

While one certainly could not have anticipated the specific event or even an event of such severity, the sad fact is that he could have reasonably predicted that something bad would eventually happen.  The Times has been in the forefront of promoting the myth that the early release of prisoners is not only a good idea, but a necessary component of reform of our prison system.

This reflects a disturbing lack of knowledge about the makeup of the state’s inmate population.  The notion that there are non-violent and non-series offenders in state prison is fantasy.  Yet, the Times writes, “Releasing inmates before they’ve completed their terms is a politically risky decision, but that doesn’t make it wrong.  Sometimes sentences are unfair, or inmates cease to pose any threat to society. All too many governors are afraid to exercise their authority even in these cases.”

Releasing prisoners is “politically” risky because it is risky.  It is what it is.  And, early release is not prison reform.  Prison reform requires better training for prison personnel, better data maintenance on inmate history, a commitment to and funding for rehabilitation and re-entry assistance.  Early release simply puts already proven dangerous criminals back on the street.  Most of their crimes will go unreported. But, eventually, we know that, in overwhelming numbers, they will reoffend and find themselves right back in prison.

The Times has embraced a dangerous and poorly researched position on the serious issues facing California’s prison system.  The rush to defend Huckabee is laudable on humanitarian grounds.  He certainly would not have commuted Clemmons’ sentence if he had been able to see into the future.  However, I suspect that the Times is motivated more by a recognition that this and other high profile events betray the Times’ own editorial position as dangerously whimsical and bereft of a serious practical understanding of the challenges of our criminal justice system.