Huckabee’s Corrections Controversies

The correctional facilities in the state of Arkansas during Mike Huckabee’s 11 years as governor were the focus of a series of controversies. There were allegations that inmates had been punished by being transfered to facilities where their race was a minority and his numerous pardons have been questioned by many.

But the most poignant incident was the rape by broom handle of a sixteen year old boy in state custody. The rape was just one of a series of sordid anecdotes unveiled by a year long investigation into youth services facilities by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that ended in 1998 and prompted Huckabee to initiate widespread change.

The investigative series documented physical and sexual abuse of children detained in the facilities, guards with criminal records or lack of training asleep on the job, overcrowding so severe children slept in showers, toilets that backed up into showers, and a mixing of emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded children with general delinquents, amongst a host of other issues.

Before the Democrat-Gazette published the reports, they brought their findings to top officials within Huckabee’s administration, but to no avail. In fact, no action was taken until the second day of the paper’s six day series, when the governor announced the closing of the facilities where the boy was raped.

Huckabee says he acted as soon as he became aware of conditions there, but a report (PDF) by the state legislature later that year concluded he knew of widespread abuse of children in state custody for months and did not act. The day the report was released, his new appointee charged with cleaning up the system resigned. A local judge later told the paper that the appointee had left because the state wouldn’t give him the funds he said he needed.

Eventually, the state paid $140,000 to the boy who was raped.

A couple years before that, two race riots ensued at a prison called Calico Rock. The riots led to an article by the Democrat-Gazette reporting that black inmates were being transfered to these facilities — where 70 percent of inmates and all of the corrections officers were white — as punishment for poor behavior. It further reported that white inmates were also sent to facilities where blacks were the majority as punishment. Officials denied the practice.

The next month, the Department of Corrections began investigating the leaks to the paper, administering lie-detector tests to prison staff in an attempt to discover who provided the paper with information, which included documents and photographs concerning the riots. Huckabee defended the investigations, declaring through a statement: “The Department of Correction has a spokesperson whose job it is to answer press questions. If other employees assume that role, the managers certainly have a right to know why those employees feel they should function in that role.”

But it has been his numerous pardons that have attracted the most scrutiny during his bid for the Republican nomination. He had pardoned twice as many inmates during his term than his three predecessors combined. These included pardons for a rapist who later killed a woman, the traffic offense for a member of the Rolling Stones, and a witness in the trial that led to his predecessors resignation. That case allowed Huckabee — who at the time was Lieutenant Governor — to take office.