Michael McCloud spent 27 years in prison for several 1990-era armed robberies. At roughly $70 a day, that’s approximately $689,850 Kansas taxpayers shelled out punishing him.

Now, newly reelected Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe wants to send the 67-year-old man back to prison for another 21 years, which would mean at least a half-million more in costs. 

All of this expense for a man who stole $7,000.

The issue here is one the ACLU of Kansas has spotlighted for years. Yes, our system needs reform. Yes, we have packed our prisons beyond capacity and beyond reason. But so much of what ails us amounts to expensive decisions such as this one, made by prosecutors who punish people frighteningly out of proportion to their crimes and beyond what taxpayers should be asked to pay.

McCloud sidesteps nothing about those robberies. He admits that during a difficult time in his life, he made some awful choices.

What you may not know, however, is that McCloud repaid the $7,000 he stole with money he made at a job he secured while incarcerated. Also, in all of that time, prison officials never once cited McCloud for a violation. He was a model prisoner.

His time served and his restitution payments likely factored into a judge reviewing his case in 2018 and deciding to run his convictions concurrently, rather than consecutively. McCloud was released.

But Howe challenged that release, arguing that the judge had no authority to modify the sentence. The Kansas Court of Appeals ruled in Howe’s favor.

We at the ACLU contend McCloud has paid his debt and that sending him back to prison makes no sense.

Since his incarceration, Kansas reduced the prison sentences for the crimes for which he had been convicted. His 27 years served is already more than double the time he would have been sentenced to under the new law.

We filed a clemency application on McCloud’s behalf last month and, sadly, this appears to be his only chance at freedom.

“Our system isn’t fair when we have prosecutors who are making decisions that aren’t informed by what the goals of our criminal justice system should be, which is reform, which is rehabilitation, which is public safety,” said our legal director, Lauren Bonds.

Howe’s response, according to a recent news story in The Kansas City Star, is that clemency is the proper legal mechanism to address McCloud’s predicament:

“We have received a copy of his request and will review it and provide a written position to the Kansas Prisoner Review Board that is in the best interests of the community,” he said.

Best interests of the community? How is sending a 67-year-old man back to prison at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers in any of our best interests?

Beyond that, McCloud has diabetes. Getting locked up in our coronavirus-infested prison system could cost him his life. Given his age, an additional 21 years alone might constitute a death sentence.

And this is a tough call? Someone needs to put on their thinking cap.

But notice Howe’s words and actions. Notice that he said clemency was the best path to justice. Is he arguing that he had no discretion here? Is he saying that he had to challenge McCloud’s release?

Notice also the power Howe exercised in essentially overruling a judge who considered McCloud’s sentencing too harsh. For years, we have centered prosecutors in our reform efforts because they wield massive authority. They decide who gets charged, what the charges will be, and weigh in on sentencing.

This is precisely the kind of prosecutorial power we must rein in.

With costly decisions such as this one, we can’t afford not to.

Mark McCormick is director of strategic communications for the ACLU of Kansas.

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