Asa Hutchinson Supports Call for Criminal Justice Review

Post Date: March 13, 2014

(Arkansas Times) — Republican governor’s candidate Asa Hutchinson said today he believes “it is time for a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system,” at both the state and federal levels. He responded to remarks by Robert Ehrlich, the former Maryland governor, at a Little Rock session on clemency issues.

Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney, member of Congress and administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said, “I have seen an increasing pattern of over-aggressive prosecutors who do not use common sense.” He added, “We don’t have enough thoughtful review.”

Hutchinson made the comments from the audience, during an exchange with his friend, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, at the University of Arkansas Bowen School of Law. Ehrlich, who is also a Republican, spoke at the school about what he views as governors’ “constitutional, statutory and moral responsibility to undertake a serious and innovative approach to executive clemency.”

During Ehrlich’s term as governor, from 2003 to 2007, he reviewed 444 applicants for pardons and granted 228. He said that to date, 99 percent of those pardoned have not reoffended.

(I hope to have shortly a number on executive clemency sought and granted in Arkansas during the Beebe years. It occurs to that an average of one a week, about what Ehrlich achieved in Maryland, wouldn’t amount to much in state with a prison population of more than 13,000, plus more backed up in county jails and many more on parole. — max)

UPDATE: From the governor’s office:

Since taking office, Governor Beebe has:

Granted 7 clemencies for incarcerated inmates. I believe only one of those meant an immediate release.

Granted 611 pardons for people who had completed all terms of their sentences.

Denied 2,456 clemency applications.

Took No Action on 2,430 clemency applications. Taking no action allows the individual to re-apply sooner than a denial does.

“We must account for human frailties—sometimes serious frailties—but also for the millions of individuals who overcome obstacles, turn their lives around, and transform themselves into productive citizens,” Ehrlich said.

“It is incumbent for governors and presidents not only to understand this fact of life but also possess the political fortitude to restore lives. A just society demands it.”

In 2013, Ehrlich announced creation of a pardon clinic at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America. According to a press release by that school, the CUA Law/Ehrlich Partnership on Clemency will also as a platform for public advocacy and an executive training institute for governors.

In his talk today, Ehrlich said he has spent the past year promoting the establishment of other “criminal justice reform clinics.” He will address the same topic at 6 p.m. this evening at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Ehrlich’s appearances in Arkansas are being sponsored by Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a national organization seeking to limit imprisonment to only “those who absolutely must be incarcerated,” and by the Arkansas chapter of the End Mass Incarceration Movement (EMI).