Haley Barbour has put his foot in it again; this time for pardoning more than 200 Mississippi inmates as one of his final acts as governor. Please understand that most of these people had served their sentences; Barbour issued full pardons so they could vote, buy fishing licenses and live a normal life in the free world. As Michelle Alexander argues with chilling clarity in her book The New Jim Crow, ex-cons don’t return to the free world when they leave prison, they are condemned to restricted and truncated lives in which the pursuit of an education or a decent job is largely a waste of time. In short, they have been excommunicated from the American dream. Governor Barbour felt that a few former inmates, selected with capricious randomness, deserve better.
It should also be noted that this is not the first time Haley Barbour has shown his compassionate side. Until 2008, the Mississippi Governor refused to pardon anyone for any reason, then, as Radley Balko discovered when he checked the records two years ago, Barbour suddenly went soft. The five men pardoned on Barbour’s way out the door are remarkably similar to the kind of people Barbour has pardoned in recent years. Here’s Balko’s list from late 2009:
Bobby Hays Clark, who in 1996 shot his ex-girlfriend in the neck and beat her boyfriend with a broom handle. Clark, who had a previous aggravated assault conviction, was sentenced to 38 years. Barbour pardoned him last year without notifying the family of Clark’s victim.
Michael David Graham, who in 1989 shot his ex-wife point-blank with a shotgun while she waited at a traffic light. Barbour suspended Graham’s life sentence, and he was released.
Clarence Jones, who stabbed his ex-girlfriend 22 times in 1992. She had previously filed multiple assault and trespassing charges against him. He was sentenced to life in prison. Barbour pardoned him last year.
Paul Joseph Warnock, who in 1989 shot his girlfriend in the back of the head as she slept. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1993. Barbour pardoned him last year.
William James Kimble, convicted and sentenced to life for robbing and murdering an elderly man in 1991.
Why the sudden change of heart? As I suggested in Race and Grace in the Magnolia State, a post published two years ago, the men Barbour has pardoned in the last few years served as trustees in the Governor’s mansion. The “cold killer” stereotype rarely stands up to careful scrutiny. When Haley got to know these men in a personal way he couldn’t help but like them. What if they had murdered their wives or girlfriends–hell, we all make mistakes, right.
But notice who Barbour still refuses to pardon: Jaime and Gladys Scott, released in 2011 because Barbour didn’t want the State of Mississippi to be stuck with their medical bills, or Clyde Kennard, framed by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission in 1959 for attempting to enroll in the all-white Mississippi Southern College.
It is interesting that the latest round of pardons are stirring such controversy Barbour’s earlier tango with mercy was largely ignored by the media. That’s because Democratic Attorney General, Ray Hood, decided to enhance his tough on crime credentials by charging that Barbour may have committed technical violations in some instances.
The furor, of course, is driven by the fact that criminals were pardoned at all. Will it matter that most of these people were simply released from the paper prison of felon disenfranchisement? I doubt it. The public has been schooled to think of criminals as inhuman monsters worthy of the fires of hell. If that’s the view from on high, the least we mortals can do is to remove their voting rights while ensuring that they never get a college education or a paying job.
Meanwhile, Democrats are gleefully denouncing poor Hailey for allegedly turning a cold shoulder to victims and their families.
Personally, I am pleased to see a few victims escaping the jaws of the mass incarceration machinery. But what of those who haven’t been pardoned; will anyone spare a thought for them?