July 26, 2018
Interesting reflections on modern clemency realities
I flagged in this prior post an interesting star-studded event in DC yesterday discussing federal clemency's past, present and possible future. This Washington Examiner piece reports on some of the interesting things said at the event under the headline "Alice Johnson recalls 'feeling of betrayal' from Obama, urges working with Trump." Here are excerpts:
Former prison inmate Alice Johnson said Wednesday she had a "feeling of betrayal" when former President Barack Obama left office with her still behind bars, urging other clemency aspirants to put aside their qualms and work with President Trump to win their release.
Johnson, who Trump freed last month from a drug-related life sentence, spoke at a gathering of clemency advocates at George Washington University, saying her case should give hope to others. "From what everyone was saying, the Obama administration would be the one that would set you free, but I was still not set free. So to put your faith in a man was not a good thing to do," Johnson said.
"And not only was I left behind, but many others were left behind also," Johnson said. "There was a feeling of betrayal because I had so much hope that I was going to come out." Johnson, who addressed the gathering before a series of panels, and then again as a panelist, said she thinks there was a divine purpose in her wait. "It didn't happen for a reason. It happened for this time in history so that you will know that hearts can change, so that you will know that you should never stop fighting either, that you are not to look at what administration is in power, who is in office," she said....
Panelists at the clemency-themed event at points debated the merits of former President Barack Obama's late-second-term spree of prison commutations, which went overwhelmingly to drug convicts, a large share of whom were convicted for crack cocaine. "The initiative missed a ton of people," said Rachel Barkow, a law professor and member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Barkow argued that a major flaw was relying on the Justice Department, saying that prosecutors are disinclined to recognize mistakes. "The deputy attorney general was saying 'no' in a lot of these cases," she said.
Roy Austin, a White House official in the Obama administration, defended Obama's late-term commutation push, saying "I'm biased, [but] we got it pretty dang right." Austin said he "loves" Trump's openness to recommendations from influential people, but that "the problem is that that's helping too few," and lacks a standardized process to ensure fairness.
Van Jones, an early-term Obama adviser who helps lead the clemency campaign #Cut50, offered positive views on the Trump administration, saying that at first "I was hopeless on election night" about clemency. "He took one step and got positive feedback," Jones said about Johnson's release, Trump's second prison commutation and his first for a drug convict.
Trump's subsequent invitation for professional athletes to submit the names of people worthy of clemency — an offer with few respondents — was "a remarkable development," Jones said. "He literally ran out of the White House saying, 'I want to do more.'"...
Several panelists discussed ideas for moving the vetting work of the Office of the Pardon Attorney out of the Justice Department, to streamline clemency applications and remove a possible conflict of interest.
Amy Povah, a Clinton clemency recipient who leads the CAN-DO Foundation, said that she's optimist about the Trump administration. "I think we have a huge opportunity because of [Johnson's] case, and I hope the Trump administration does something historic," Povah said.
Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries, said clemency transcends the typical conservative-liberal divide in politics. "These are fundamental liberty issues," he said, arguing that Johnson's case "shocks the conscience" regardless of political affiliation.
I sincerely want to be as optimistic and hopeful as Amy Povah about Prez Trump doing something historic in this arena. But all of his clemency chatter needs to become clemency action before too long if he wants to avoid creating a "feeling of betrayal" among a whole lot of federal prisoners now surely eager to benefit from all his encouraging talk.
A few of many recent related posts about recent Trumpian clemency activity:
- As Kim Kardashian heads to White House, I hope she advocates for many federal offenders excessively sentenced
- Kimme’s accomplishment: Prez Trump commutes LWOP sentence of Alice Johnson!!
- Prez Trump reportedly "obsessed" with pardons and "may sign a dozen or more in the next two months"
- "Kim Kardashian West pushes White House for more drug sentence commutations"
- Prez Trump now says he is looking at "3,000 names" for possible clemency and will seek more
- Any suggestions for Prez Trump's "growing list of potential pardons or commutations"?
- "Trump asks for clemency names and lists promptly arrive at White House"
- Former US Pardon Attorney explains why "Trump’s pardons are really not out of the ordinary"
- Another notable report on clemency suggesting Prez Trump will be "pardoning a lot of people — pardons that even Obama wouldn’t do"
- "N.F.L. Players to Trump: Here’s Whom You Should Pardon"
- "The Quest to Get a Pardon in the Trump Era: ‘It’s Who You Know’"
- "Setting the Record Straight: The Pardon Power is Part of the Rule of Law"
- "Pardon System Needs Fixing, Advocates Say, but They Cringe at Trump’s Approach"
July 26, 2018 at 10:56 AM | Permalink
How stupid can these people get? According to Wikipedia, Trump has pardoned six people and commuted the sentences of two. Of the six pardons he has granted, one recipient was long-dead and the other five cases were convictions in extremely high-profile cases related to conservative politics. Both of the two commutations are of extremely high-profile cases.
Trump is granting clemency at a rate of less than one act every other month. I'm happy for Alice Johnson and Sholom Rubashkin, the only two living people who even remotely might have merited the clemency granted to them by Trump. But no one, including the two of them and especially someone like Van Jones, should be under any illusions that Trump is someone who's actually out to do some justice.
Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 26, 2018 4:39:42 PM
I think that we may be surprised and I might add happy. Don't forget that during the Obama administration the federal prison population was increased by 20,000 people during his first 5 years. It was then the highest in history at over 219,000 people.
He did grant a little over 1,700 commutations, but he denied over 18,000, left 8,000 at the department of justice for the next administration and closed without action over 4,000. Of the 1,700 commutations granted only 36 were for nonviolent marijuana offenders.
Posted by: beth | Jul 26, 2018 9:59:18 PM