The head public defender in Saline County, Matt Palmer, filed a writ seeking Clevenger’s release. Palmer argued, among other things, that Rolf was wrong to treat Clevenger different than other, non-pregnant defendants, and, even so, was making things worse for her unborn child by forcing him or her to be born in prison.
Last week, the Missouri Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, denied Palmer’s writ. Clevenger will stay in prison. It’s a tragic result to a situation with no good answers.
The best answers, I think, were laid out in an amicus brief filed in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Besides the issue of Clevenger’s pregnancy, the brief focuses on a two-part test Missouri judges are supposed to follow in probation cases, determining first whether there is a violation, and second, whether there are good alternatives to incarceration.
It’s this second step, the ACLU argues, that Rolf didn’t properly consider. There is no doubt Clevenger violated her probation, and perhaps multiple times. But what’s the best option for Clevenger, for the state, for the citizens of Missouri?
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“Judge Rolf did not weigh the risks of incarceration for three years — which will result in Clevenger having her child while incarcerated — against the benefits of available community resources,” the ACLU wrote in its brief.