« "Sentence Appeals in England: Promoting Consistent Sentencing through Robust Appellate Review | Main | Two notable SCOTUS criminal law arguments (with federal mandatory minimums at issue) »

November 11, 2013

How about a few clemency grants, Prez Obama, to really honor vets in need on Veterans Day?

On Veterans Day, I always find myself thinking about veterans who, after serving our country in the military and thereby supporting of our nation's commitment to liberty and freedom, return home and discover the hard way that these constitutional values are not always paramount in our modern criminal justice systems.  This Daily Beast piece, headlined "From PTSD to Prison: Why Veterans Become Criminals," highlights that there are now probably hundreds of thousand of veterans in America's prison and jails:

In 2008 the RAND Corporation surveyed a group of veterans six months after their return. It found that almost one in five had either PTSD or major depression. In recent years rates of substance abuse and suicide among veterans have also ticked steadily upward.

A certain number of veterans suffering from mental-health issues will, invariably, end up in jail or prison. After Vietnam, the number of inmates with prior military service rose steadily until reaching a peak in 1985, when more than one in five was a veteran. By 1988, more than half of all Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD reported that they had been arrested; more than one third reported they had been arrested multiple times. Today veterans advocates fear that, unless they receive proper support, a similar epidemic may befall soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

No one knows how many veterans are incarcerated, but the most recent survey, compiled by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004, found that nearly one in 10 inmates in U.S. jails had prior military service. Extrapolated to the total prison population, this means that approximately 200,000 veterans were behind bars.

As the title of this post highlights, I would like to see President Obama go beyond the usual symbolic gestures and use his historic clemency powers to salute at least a few veterans in federal prison with commutations that would create just a bit more physical liberty and honor a few more veterans with pardons that would free offenders from the enduring collateral consequences of a federal criminal conviction.

This effective recent op-ed by Mark Osler, headlined "Clemency is a task for people and institutions of faith; It should also be a task for the president, but he seems unwilling or unable to use his powers," starts by noting why, sadly, I am not expecting the President to step up to the clemency plate today or anytime soon:

President Obama is, by a wide margin, the stingiest president in modern times in his use of the pardon power.  He seems unwilling or unable to use this simple constitutional tool, even as both conservative and progressive commentators are criticizing the federal government’s overincarceration of nonviolent offenders.  A simple way to alleviate that problem would be to commute (shorten) the most egregious of these sentences using the pardon power.

Some recent and a few older posts concerning federal clemency practices:

November 11, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2019b00f16769970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How about a few clemency grants, Prez Obama, to really honor vets in need on Veterans Day?:

Comments

I wonder how much of Obama's reluctance to use the pardon power is a reaction to Clinton's last-minute pardons of Marc Rich and others. It seems that Clinton gave pardons a bad name, at the end of his second term.

Posted by: Late Inning Relief | Nov 11, 2013 4:10:58 PM

Pardon me for saying this Mr. President but the pardon is now something that you are entitled to "give" like you give your nephew a birthday gift. The Pardon Power is an obligation of your office to exercise and not lay dormant.

The word Pardon also conveys a sense of forgive. We will not forgive your failure to exercise the pardon power and especially for veterans. Screw what Clinton did. Do your job!

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 11, 2013 11:32:58 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB