Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe appears to be overflowing with the milk of human kindness this holiday season. As governor he's issued about 700 pardons so far, and claims that many of those had been convicted of nonviolent offenses. The latest is his son.
Before he leaves office (because of term limits) and goes back to private life, Gov. Beebe is trying to pardon a few more people. What could be wrong with that?
One problem seems to be that he knows some of them. For example, there's Michael E. Jackson. Beebe coached Jackson in Pee Wee Football years ago. As an adult, Jackson made a very bad decision. He tried to arrange to get together with someone he'd met on the Internet. Trouble was, the 14-year-old girl he thought he was going to meet was actually a grown-up police officer.
Jackson didn't actually go through with the meeting, nothing actually happened as a result of his Internet chat - except that he was arrested, charged and convicted for intent. Jackson ended up serving time as a sex offender. Now free, he requested a pardon - that's the law in Arkansas, people who have been convicted of whatever offenses must request a pardon before the state parole board and the Governor can consider it.
The parole board recommended Jackson get a pardon and the Governor said he would do it, which kicked off a firestorm of criticism. Gov. Beebe is a conservative Democrat though he's viewed as a centrist by some, and the state legislature is controlled by the Republicans. Conservative groups such as the Family Council were particularly offended by the notion that a young African-American man would be given a pardon and thus removed from the sex offender registry, as well as regaining his other rights. The governor has reportedly put the request on hold. It's supposedly because an affidavit in a child-custody case has come to light, not due to public/political pressure.
As Gov. Beebe was recovering from the Jackson story, another pardon controversy reared its head.
Back in 2003, when Beebe was Arkansas' Attorney General, his then 23-year-old son Kyle was arrested on marijuana charges. Kyle was hit with possession with intent to deliver and convicted of a class C felony. Beebe did the politically correct thing at the time and said that in spite of the relationship, his son had been convicted of a crime and had to be held accountable.
The price that his son paid was relatively light - a fine and three years of probation, no time behind bars - but then again it was a first offense, and in 2003 probation was (presumably) allowed under Arkansas law for a first offense. NORML's website shows that currently a Class C felony marijuana conviction would mean a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence - but again, he was convicted more than a decade ago, and the laws have changed.
Gov. Beebe on pardoning Kyle: 'I would've done it a long time ago, but he took his sweet time about asking. He was embarrassed. He's still embarrassed, and frankly, I was embarrassed and his mother was embarrassed.'
Arkansas has a serious problem with prison overcrowding and excessive spending on corrections. According to the Pew Center on the State in 2010, “Over the past 20 years, the prison population in Arkansas has more than doubled to 15,171 inmates. In 2009 alone, the number of inmates grew 3.1%, the eighth largest percentage increase in the country, and state spending on corrections reached an all-time high.”
The other problem, the larger one, is the pardon, which was approved on Oct. 20 by the Arkansas Parole Board. Eleven years later, the conviction is still on Kyle Beebe's's record. This means that, among other things, he's not allowed to possess firearms or do jury service. Thousands of people in Arkansas have such convictions and are practically second-class citizens because of a conviction for a marijuana offense. In 2013 alone, there were 1,036 arrests in Arkansas for sale/manufacture of marijuana, and 7,610 arrests for possession. (The report from the Arkansas Crime Information Center doesn't include a category for possession with intent.)
So is it hypocritical if the governor pardons his son and doesn't issue pardons for others who were convicted of marijuana offenses? If they've applied for pardons and been denied, the answer would have to be yes. Arkansas really does seem to say that individuals have to actually apply for pardons. The governor and the parole board aren't allowed under law to simply select a group of people convicted of some offense, like marijuana possession, and give them a blanket pardon.
"I would've done it a long time ago." the Gov admitted, "but he took his sweet time about asking. He was embarrassed. He's still embarrassed, and frankly, I was embarrassed and his mother was embarrassed."
Given the rules for the pardon/clemency process, everyone in Arkansas who's been convicted of a marijuana offense should apply for a pardon. Unfortunately, as Beebe is about to leave office those applications would have to be considered by his successor: The newly-elected governor of Arkansas, former DEA administrator and U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson.