Vice President George Bush on Friday fired his most detailed campaign barrage yet against Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis and the prison furlough program he backed, characterizing Dukakis as a man with an “astounding lack of . . . human compassion” toward victims of crime who presided over a “Twilight Zone” state justice system.
Later, revving up several thousand supporters at a picturesque brick courthouse square in Medina, Ohio, Bush labeled Dukakis the “furlough king” and charged that the Democratic nominee only agreed to amend the program this spring because of election-year pressure.
“I don’t believe in putting revolving doors on our nation’s prison cells,” Bush declared in Medina. “And, I don’t believe in letting murderers and rapists who haven’t even served enough time to be eligible for parole out on a furlough!”
In trying to turn up the political heat on his last full day of campaigning before next week’s presidential debate, however, the Republican nominee came under fire from Dukakis aides, who said that Bush was taking advantage of crime victims.
And, under questioning by reporters, Bush aides admitted that the vice president has no firm position on prison furloughs, which the federal prison system also grants.
Bush has not, for example, yet determined whether the federal program should be tightened to exclude drug dealers and murderers, aides said. Bush has vowed a crackdown on drug dealers; in 1986 alone, more than 2,000 federal prisoners convicted of drug offenses were furloughed.
Craig Fuller, Bush’s chief of staff, said that if elected, Bush would direct his attorney general to look into the guidelines for federal furloughs.
Asked why Bush had not reviewed the program in the eight years of his vice presidency, Fuller said: “No comment.”
In a comprehensive prison and criminal justice proposal announced this week, Bush did not mention furlough programs, which prison officials commonly use as a tool to help control inmate behavior and assist in rehabilitation.
Under the federal program and those in many states, including Massachusetts, prisoners jailed for a wide variety of crimes are allowed furloughs, generally when they are nearing their release date.
The federal government’s furlough program allows unsupervised leaves of up to one month, while the Massachusetts program involves weekend passes.
As Bush likes to tell audiences, however, Massachusetts sponsored the only furlough program in the nation that allowed furloughs for murderers serving sentences of life without parole.
Earlier this year, Dukakis reluctantly signed legislation changing the rules after an uproar ensued over the case of Willie Horton.
Horton was serving a life sentence for murder and was not eligible for parole in 1987 when he was released on repeated unsupervised weekend furloughs. On his 10th such release, he escaped to Maryland, where, for four hours, he beat and slashed a Maryland man and terrorized and raped the man’s fiancee.
The couple, Clifford and Angela Barnes, on Friday held a series of press conferences in California discussing the Horton case.
In Xenia, near Dayton, Bush offered a blow-by-blow denunciation of the Massachusetts prison furlough system and Dukakis, relying heavily on the Horton case.
Bush accused Dukakis of cold-heartedness for failing to apologize to the Maryland couple victimized by Horton. Dukakis also would not agree to meet with the pair.
“When it comes to the plights of the victims and their families, there is what one can only describe as an astounding lack of sensitivity, a lack of human compassion,” Bush declared.
In response, Dukakis spokesman Leslie Dach said that Dukakis in 1986 was given a public policy leadership award from the National Organization for Victims’ Assistance.
“Michael Dukakis has said the Horton incident was a tragedy and he changed the law,” Dach said.
“But he’s not going to do what George Bush is doing, which is play politics with victims of crime.”
Bush said Dukakis was one of a group of people who “have wandered far off the clear-cut path of common sense and have become lost in the thickets of liberal sociology.”
“One can only describe it as completely out of whack,” Bush said in Xenia, “a Twilight Zone world where prisoners’ right of privacy had more weight than the citizens’ right to safety.”
Bush began the day by meeting in Xenia with crime victims in a session that campaign aides described as emotional. After the subsequent rallies there and in Medina, he traveled to Lee’s Summit, Mo., for a high school rally.
As they have been throughout the campaign, Bush’s appearances were made before overwhelmingly white, middle- and upper-class audiences, despite an earlier vow to reach out to the poor and minorities during his general election campaign.
Repeatedly this week, Bush talked movingly about the impact of crime and the poor without ever talking to a lower-income or minority audience. Asked if Bush would make good on his promise before the election, campaign spokeswoman Sheila Tate said: “The campaign is not over.”
“Crime is an issue that affects every area,” she added in defending Bush’s choice of backdrops.
Bush himself remained insulated from reporters for the eighth day. When reporters hollered questions at him in an impromptu parade in Xenia, and through an electric bullhorn, after the courthouse rally in Medina, he looked at them, grinned and waved heartily to the crowds.