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January 19, 2012

Former Gov Haley Barbour explains "Why I released 26 prisoners"

In today's Washington Post, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has this notable new piece headlined "Why I released 26 prisoners."  Here are some notable excerpts:

The furor over the pardons I recently granted as governor of Mississippi initially focused on numbers.  I would like to set the record straight.

People thought — incorrectly — that I had let 215 prisoners out of jail because the secretary of state reported that many people received clemency.  In fact, 189 of those people were not released from prison.  In most cases, they had already been out for many years.  These folks are no more a threat to society now than they were the week before I gave them clemency.

I believe in the governor’s power to grant clemency, but I granted fewer than 10 pardons or reprieves in my first term as governor.  After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, my staff just didn’t have time to deal with the issue, so at the end of my first term I pardoned only the inmates who had worked successfully at the governor’s mansion that term.

This was not a new thing.  For decades, Mississippi governors have granted clemency to the inmates who work at the mansion.  I followed that tradition four years ago and did so again at the end of my second term.  No one should have been surprised.

Despite all the publicity this month, few seem to notice the limited scope of my recent actions.  I authorized the release of 26 prisoners from custody.  As of last week, there were 21,342 inmates in the state corrections system and 60,517 people under Mississippi Department of Corrections supervision.  I released 12 one-hundredths of 1 percent (0.0012) of our state’s inmates.  About 95 percent of the clemencies I approved were recommended by our state parole board, and I accepted the parole board’s recommendations about 95 percent of the time.

When people realized that only 26 prisoners were being released — and that half of those 26 were given suspended sentences for medical reasons — the political attacks on my pardons shifted.  The story became that many of the 13 non-medical releases were murderers.  Of those 13, only 10 were pardoned; the other three were put under house arrest or a revocable, indefinite suspension....

I always intended to follow the tradition of gubernatorial clemency for the mansion inmates.  When I did so at the end of my first term, I was criticized for pardoning murderers.  I never made any secret of the fact that I would again pardon those who successfully completed work during my second term.  The mansion inmates I fully released are not threats to society.  They have paid the price for their crimes, having served an average of 20 years’ imprisonment.

In Mississippi, the constitutional power of pardon is based on our Christian belief in repentance, forgiveness and redemption — a second chance for those who are rehabilitated and who redeem themselves.  Other great religions have similar tenets; so does the U.S. Constitution.

Mississippi spends about $350 million a year on our corrections system, much of it aimed at rehabilitating those who went wrong.  Regrettably there are bad actors who will never be rehabilitated, but many who go to prison can be helped.  Our state recidivism rate is just above 30 percent, far below the national average.

For some who are rehabilitated and redeem themselves, the governor is the only person who can give them a second chance.  I am very comfortable giving such people that opportunity.

I am impressed with this piece, and it reminds me somewhat of some of the comments made by former Governor Mike Huckabee when he was given grief for his clemency practices.  I especially like not only Barbour's number crunching, but also the emphasis on his "Christian belief in repentance, forgiveness and redemption."  

Barbour's reference to the US Constitution also prompts me to note that President Obama has only commuted one sentence from the more than 216,000 inmates in the federal prison system, meaning he has released far less than one ten-thousands of 1 percent (0.000004) of federal inmates during his presidency.  Perhaps if President Obama ever faces any new questions about his faith, he might consider showcasing a true commitment to the Christian belief in repentance, forgiveness and redemption by starting to make serious use of his constitutional clemency power.   (Obama would need to commute about six sentences every week through 2012 to catch up to Barbour's record of (merely) releasing 12 one-hundredths of 1 percent (0.0012) of federal inmates.)

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Comments

Saying that someone who served 10 years for deliberately shooting a woman to death has "paid the price" for the crime is utter and complete nonsense. On top of a ridiculous decision, Barbour adds lies.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 19, 2012 12:13:04 PM

nice opinion fed. NOW me i think a lot of empty headed twits just got slammed BIG TIME. All the hate filled news articles have been shown up for the politican bull they are!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 19, 2012 1:18:58 PM

rodsmith:

Please provide examples of "All the hate filled news articles".

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 19, 2012 3:38:11 PM

I have a hard time making comparisons with Huckabee, who did not pardon Maurice Clemmons (for example). Huckabee only commuted the sentence so as to allow for the possibility of parole. A parole boar released Clemmons. Huckabee neither pardoned him nor released him. And, yes a lot of commentary was unfair.

Although it is true that most of Barbour's recipients were not in prison, anyone who know anything about clemency knows that is just about always the case. So his "correction" about the number of people releases is apparently aimed at the most ignorant observers. It would be nice if he could quote at least one source saying that most of the people he released were prisoners. I have not yet seen such reports, and I am following the story pretty carefully.

Barbour's recourse to Christianity is about as impressive as his general neglect of the power. His recourse to Katrina is about as impressive as the number of pardons he granted as governor for almost 600 days previous to Katrina. And his recourse to "tradition" for pardoning murderers who worked at the mansion ... well, that speaks for itself!

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 19, 2012 4:54:46 PM

LOL adamakis just SCROLL UP to the top. just look at the titles in the links ....

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 19, 2012 5:00:16 PM

I am rather shocked, frankly, at pardoning those prisoners that worked in the Governor's mansion as a "tradition." While the merits of pardons can be debated vis a vis relative fairness and disagreement with certain inmates sentences and gubernatorial rectification, I can't help but think that the gig to work the Guv's crib shouldn't be worth anything but perhaps an internal reward for good behavior.

In short, I would be VERY interested in the criteria it takes to get the gig at the mansion, as well as the "tradition" that allows for such pardons. True, it may very well be they don't let hardened or violent criminals or porn downloaders out of the prison, but if I were a victim of one of these pardonees I'd be angry too.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 20, 2012 2:22:52 AM

I have sort of assumed that only the most reformed/safe prisoners are assigned to the mansion jobs, both because of the obvious risks to governor's staff were it otherwise, and because DOC is doubtless aware that such an assignment is tantamount to resentencing the prisoner to a 4-year term followed by release. However, I've seen no documentation of that, so for all I know the slots are assigned by cronyism or graft. But hopefully there is some reasoned process that assigns the people who are most worthy of clemency to these slots that basically guarantee clemency.

Mr. Ruckman, I agree I did not see much/any coverage specifically asserting that all/most of the recipients were released from prison. However, I saw a lot of headlines that said "200+ pardoned" and didn't get into the fact that 189 were already on the streets prior to the pardons until 5 or 6 paragraphs into the story. I realize you are an expert in this area and would have been looking for this distinction, but I think it is important to note that the category of folks who "know anything about clemency" is amazingly small. 99% or more of the public likely does *not* "know anything about clemency," nor do most people read news articles thoroughly, beyond the headline and the lead. So I have no doubt that these stories led the majority of readers to believe that 200+ people had been released from prison. Good journalists write headlines and leads that are not merely factually accurate, but which are also calculated to avoid easily anticipated misreadings. I think there was a failure to do so here. (For example a subheading or sentence in the lead that said "26 released from prison; 189 have records wiped clean" or something of that nature would have done the trick, but I did not see much of that.)


Posted by: Anon | Jan 20, 2012 10:56:35 AM

Anon,

Your points are very well taken, from your perspective. Here is the problem, however:

Anyone who knows anything about the exercise of the pardon power, state and federal, knows that - contrary to public perception - the typical pardon is given to someone who committed a minor offense years ago, has served their time (if there was any) taken care of fines (if there was any), integrated themselves back into society and clemency simply restores their rights. And this was certainly the case with Barbour's batch of last-minute grants, generally. I would not have expected anything different.

However, for him to act as though he was surprised and taken aback by the fact that the public did not understand all of this is patently stupid. It is, as everyone knows, THE MOST popular widespread misunderstanding that there is. It is the EXACT thing that any intelligent person would bet their soul on happening, especially after neglecting the power for 8 years and using suddenly before he leaves office.

And, by the way, what kept Barbour from giving a press conference and explaining all of the immediately? Nothing. This is all about Barbour attracting attention to himself (to appear "controversial" and a desired object of media) at the expense of the reputation of the pardon power and pardon recipients.

best,

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 20, 2012 2:03:31 PM

Prof. Ruckman,

Very good point. I may have misunderstood the thrust of your original comment. I agree that Barbour absolutely could/should/must have predicted the outrage/controversy occasioned by his actions unless he, himself, carefully drew the distinctions between the large majority of already-reintegrated-in-society, pro forma pardons and the small number of violent-crime-still-in-prison pardons.

Thanks for the response.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 23, 2012 1:16:02 PM

how true anon!

based on this!

"This was not a new thing. For decades, Mississippi governors have granted clemency to the inmates who work at the mansion. I followed that tradition four years ago and did so again at the end of my second term. No one should have been surprised."

it's been being done for DECADES! just this time one set of media retards just HAD to blow it up out of context for a story!

pity he didn't still have enough time in office to ORDER THEIR ARREST!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 23, 2012 5:57:10 PM

rodsmith,

My understanding is that at least one of the mansion trusties had just been denied parole, and yet was pardoned. Are you suggesting this is a "tradition" decades old?

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 23, 2012 10:07:37 PM

not me P.S but the governor is stating it!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/haley-barbour-on-his-pardons-of-mississippi-prisoners/2012/01/17/gIQAtOuG9P_story.html

"I believe in the governor’s power to grant clemency, but I granted fewer than 10 pardons or reprieves in my first term as governor. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, my staff just didn’t have time to deal with the issue, so at the end of my first term I pardoned only the inmates who had worked successfully at the governor’s mansion that term.

This was not a new thing. For decades, Mississippi governors have granted clemency to the inmates who work at the mansion. I followed that tradition four years ago and did so again at the end of my second term. No one should have been surprised."

since the article is now 5 days old i would assume that it must be the TRUTH since if it was't it would have hit the national news if there is ANY evidence it wasn't!


as for one being denied parole. well parole and pardon are two diff things and a pardon is not predicated on being on parole or anything else. It is considered a act of mercy on the part of the state to forgive someone of their past crimes.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 24, 2012 12:30:55 AM

Well, I don't mean to put too fine a point on it rodsmith, but I say the governor is lying.

1. He says he did not have time to grant pardons post Katrina. But the fact of the matter is that he granted ZERO pardons in the almost 600 days between taking office and the arrival of Katrina.

2. The "trusty" program has been around for a while. Saying so hardly sheds any light on last-minute pardons or pardons in the immediate aftermath of parole denial. I mean, I can understand why Barbour would rather talk about something irrelevant, but I am not sure why that should cause either you or I to lose focus.

3. Your assumption that the "truth" will just pop out is ... well ... heart warming. Wish I could join you. If you have followed the reporting on this story, it is not even clear just how many people were pardoned! That is the landscape here.

4. We all understand pardon and parole are different things, but I think we can all also guess that it is not very common for a murderer to be denied parole and then, just weeks later, be granted a pardon. In addition, the assertion that the two are unrelated is patently false. Barbour's clemency warrants frequently cite the granting of parole in the history of recipients. Why would they do so if this were irrelevant?

Posted by: P. S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jan 24, 2012 10:16:52 AM

LOL it's not my assumption that the truth will pop out. but the FACT that he's leaving office which means last time i looked an ELECTION is coming which means any number of reporters who favor the other side will be digging for any piece of DIRT they can find. A blanket statement like his is just BEGGING to be checked and in this digital age would take little or no time to confirm or refute!

since i've not seen "outgoing governor lies though his teeth" smeared across the airwaves and internet i'm betting there IS NO PROOF he lied!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 24, 2012 12:30:46 PM

as for this!

"but I think we can all also guess that it is not very common for a murderer to be denied parole and then, just weeks later, be granted a pardon."

that's not the right question.

question should be how many OTHER murderer's who have also worked at the govrs' mansion had thier parole denied and then given a pardon.

but the big big question which nobody seems to be looking at and would take no time to prove or disprove is


Has the governor of whatever party done as he has climed.

if it had in fact been policy for decades to pardon all those inmates working at the mansion at the end of an term.

then the public and media both need to SHUT thier faces and move on!

if not. then HE'S LIED and show the proof and CALL HIM ON IT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 24, 2012 12:35:08 PM

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