This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
In attempting to deal with cop-killer Maurice Clemmons, Washington state got shamelessly played by Arkansas.
When Arkansas officials shipped Clemmons here in 2004, they somehow neglected to inform Washington’s corrections people that he’d been convicted of robbery, theft and burglary in that state in 1989.
Then, after Clemmons turned violent last spring, the folks in Little Rock suddenly lost interest in enforcing the terms of his original parole. They withdrew their warrant for his extradition, allowing him to post bail in November, walk out of jail in Tacoma – and gun down four Lakewood police officers.
Washington put a hold on further parolee transfers from Arkansas until better safeguards are in place. And now Washington’s in the wrong?
Apparently so, according to the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision, an agreement that governs the transfer of parolees among all 50 states.
After hearing Washington’s complaints, the commission’s executive director, Harry Hageman, concluded this week that this state cannot require Arkansas to provide full information about a transfer’s criminal history, nor can it send the offender back if he can’t be safely supervised here.
In other words, forget Clemmons – you’ve got to keep taking Arkansas’ parolees.
Washington’s secretary of corrections, Eldon Vail, has come back with precisely the right response: Make us.
This may seem an abstract issue of rules and regulations to Hageman and others in distant parts of the country, but around here, feelings about the Clemmons case remain raw and inflamed. A status quo that might allow Arkansas or any other state to dump another such felon on Washington – withholding information about him and preventing our criminal justice system from sending him back – is intolerable.
It’s important to respect an interstate agreement, but it’s more important to protect the innocent from human predators. Given a choice between raising a stink about the compact and taking another potential Clemmons, we’ll go with the stink.
Worst case: Washington could get kicked out of the compact. But the compact isn’t doing much for Washington as things stand. We’re coming out on the wrong side of the trade balance. The 49 other states have accepted roughly 1,000 of the criminals our Department of Corrections has released to community supervision. We’ve accepted more than twice that number from the rest of the country.
Vail’s requests – full criminal histories and no self-serving refusals to extradite re-offenders – are more than reasonable. If they aren’t accommodated, Arkansas and the compact people shouldn’t be surprised when Washington turns unreasonable.