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April 1, 2015

"For principle to be served, 22 worthy, long-term narcotics prisoners granted release needs to become 2,200 or more."

The title of this post is a provocative line from this commentary piece by Mark Osler in reaction to President Obama's grants of clemency yesterday (basics here).   Here are more of his sentiments:

In one day, Obama commuted almost as many sentences as Reagan and George W. Bush did in 16 years.

What we are glimpsing like a gorilla in the mist might be something so rare it has not been spotted in four decades: the principled use of the pardon power in a systemic way to address injustice.  It could even be the reclaiming of a core Constitutional imperative that was squandered by President Clinton in his last days in office, and largely ignored by President Reagan and both Bushes.  Or maybe not; it all depends on what comes next....

The president has most of the work ahead of him if he is really to reclaim the pardon power from its long period of disrepute.  Tuesday’s 22 men and women are largely symbolic, representing the thousands like them who remain in prison.

Perhaps most importantly, the president should reform the pardon process so that it doesn’t need special initiatives like the Clemency Project 2014.  Like Presidents Bush and Clinton before him, Obama complained of not getting good cases.  The problem is the system that delivers those cases to his desk, which winds its way through the Department of Justice and the White House, navigating as many as seven levels of review....

[M]any of the most efficient [state] systems use a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the executive.  Establishing such a board cuts the levels of review down to just a few and opens up other opportunities.  For example, such a board could compile and analyze data on those released and their success, providing guidance for future cases.

The fact that 22 clemencies is historic says more about the state of federal clemency than it does about this toe-in-the-water action, given that there are over 200,000 people in federal prisons across the United States.  At best, it is a symbolic gesture, and the coming reality will be good for the prisoners released, good for the communities they return to, and good for a living Constitution in need of balance.

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April 1, 2015 at 11:04 PM | Permalink


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I think Obama is lonewolf enough to grant a slug of pardons.

He still has a lot if time.

7 levels before ut gets to Obama. Good gravy.

A single level is adequate. Are they totally incompetent?

I shouldnt ask that question, sorry.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 1, 2015 11:15:04 PM

We do have a tendency to make process our god. So frequently process and data deter us from taking a "reasonable course". In this case that course is to reduce incarceration so we look like a nation of citizens who revere freedom.

Incarceration for life style issues where there are no victims - as stated at sentencing - is what has made us the nation that takes individuals freedom randomly and at will.

Oh well, Mark Osler is a wise and thoughtful man. He will continue to be a voice of reason ans compassion.

Posted by: beth | Apr 2, 2015 12:23:30 AM

If a republican (or Hillary Clinton) is elected as the next president, Obama will pardon tens of thousands of inmates, if not more. States and communities had better get ready for the massive influx following the election, particularly if the Congressional leadership becomes more conservative.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Apr 2, 2015 11:48:56 AM

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