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October 15, 2016

Federal inmate refuses Prez Obama's commutation

This USA Today article, headlined "Obama grants clemency to inmate — but inmate refuses," reports on a notable response by one federal inmate to receiving clemency. Here are the interesting details and some historical context:

When President Obama announced a program to grant executive clemency to drug offenders given long mandatory sentences, Arnold Ray Jones did what more than 29,000 federal inmates have done: He asked Obama for a presidential commutation. And then, after it arrived on Aug. 3, he refused to accept it.

Jones’ turnabout highlights the strings that come attached to an increasing number of Obama’s commutations: In this case, enrollment in a residential drug treatment program — which has been a condition of 92 of Obama commutation grants. Jones is the first to refuse that condition.

If Jones had agreed to complete the the program, he would be out in two years. He still has six years left on his original 2002 sentence for drug trafficking, but Jones may be counting on getting time off for good behavior, which would have him released in April 2019 — eight months longer than if he had accepted the commutation. ​Jones, 50, is in a low-security federal prison in Beaumont, Texas.

The unusual rejection came to light last week, when Obama commuted the sentences of 102 more federal inmates. With the 673 previous commutations granted, the total should have been 775 — but the White House accounting had only 774. At about the same time, the Department of Justice updated its online record of Obama's commutations and updated Jones' entry with the notation: "condition declined, commutation not effectuated."

The White House and the Justice Department declined to talk about the specifics of the case. But inmate records that Jones submitted as part of his court case show that he used crack cocaine weekly in the year before his arrest, and that drug treatment programs he's completed in the past have been unsuccessful. The Bureau of Prisons describes its Residential Drug Abuse Program as its most intensive treatment program, where offenders are separated from the general population for nine months while participating in four hours of community-based therapy programs each day.

Jones' mother said Thursday that she was excited about the news of Obama's commutation and wasn't aware that it was rejected. "I don’t know about him declining or anything. I'm looking for my son to come home," said Ruth Jones, of Lubbock, Texas.

Unlike pardons, which represent a full legal forgiveness for a crime, commutations can shorten a prison sentence while leaving other consequences intact. And as Obama has increased his use of commutations in his last year in office, he's also gotten more creative in adapting the power to fit the circumstances of each case. Unlike the more common "time served" commutations, which release a prisoner more or less immediately, many of his commutations since August have been "term" commutations, which have left prisoners with years left to serve on their sentences.

At the same time, Obama has also begun to attach drug treatment as a condition of many of those commutations, beginning with Jones' class of 214 inmates on Aug. 3 — the single largest grant of clemency in a single day in the history of the presidency.

That day, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston — who advises the president on commutation applications — explained the new drug treatment condition in a blog post on the White House web site. "For some, the president believes that the applicant’s successful re-entry will be aided with additional drug treatment, and the president has conditioned those commutations on an applicant’s seeking that treatment," Eggleston wrote. "Underlying all the president’s commutation decisions is the belief that these deserving individuals should be given the tools to succeed in their second chance."

Since Aug. 3, 22% of the commutations Obama has issued have required drug treatment.

Conditional pardons and commutations have been part of presidential clemency almost since the beginning. Presidents have used that power to induce prisoners to join the military, leave the United States or even — in the case of President Warren Harding's pardon of socialist Eugene Debs — that the clemency recipient travel to Washington to meet him. President Bill Clinton imposed conditions in 34 cases, usually insisting on drug testing....

But even with conditions, it's extremely rare for a recipient to reject clemency outright once it's granted. P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who has cataloged 30,642 presidential clemency actions dating back to President George Washington, has found just 16 clemency warrants returned to the president unaccepted.

Take President Herbert Hoover's 1930 commutation of Romeo Forlini, an Italian man serving a seven-year sentence after being caught by the Secret Service selling fraudulent Italian bonds. That commutation was granted "on condition that he be deported and never return to the United States." Forlini rejected that condition, and two weeks later Hoover granted him a full, unconditional pardon. "There's a guy who played his cards right," Ruckman said. (Alas, Forlini was arrested in New York in 1931 trying to pull off a similar scam on an undercover detective.)

October 15, 2016 at 07:00 PM | Permalink


RDAP, prison's residential treatment program doesn't end after 9 months or even when an inmate gets out of prison. It's a 3 part program and all parts need to be completed to get credit, that means the 9 month in prison program, the monthly prison program after that and then the ongoing halfway house portion. RDAP allows for early release (usually 6 months) for some inmates, part of their screening process depends on an inmate's history of substance abuse "before" entering prison. They are usually put in halfway houses for 3-6 months early release (so called, prison-lite) where they must secure a 40 hr a week job within 15 days of arrival, attend weekly drug treatment counseling, submit to random drug screens, abide by strick rules and curfews, have every move pretty much monitored and live with alot of other inmates who may have come from prison levels much more secure than their own.

The early release is worth it for alot of inmates, even with all the prison type restrictions. Those who can stay clean seem to do OK.

For many others, the rules, drug treatment counseling, having to get a job, it's not what they want so they'd rather just finish their prison time where they are and get on with the life they want to lead when they get out without RDAP restrictions.

To each their own, I guess.

Posted by: kat | Oct 16, 2016 10:04:46 AM

The restrictions actually get in the wat of maintaining a full time job. Gonna work odd shifts and some riotating shifts. Cant be in 2 places at once, this is the word from the street. For many the RDAP program sucks, for some its helpful, but a pain in the Dupa.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Oct 16, 2016 4:40:55 PM

MWGuy, agree it is a continuing disruption to getting on with ones life with Big Brother still looking over your shoulder.

Posted by: Ben | Oct 17, 2016 8:18:06 PM

A few thoughts - brings to mind the "old law" inmates who would refuse parole. It was unusual (most inmates were at least eligible for parole after 1/3 of their sentence) but for those who were not offered parole until LATER in their sentences, they could be released with Good Time (generally knocking 1/3 off the sentence), with the expectation taht their post release supervision would be shorter and/or less comprehensive. An inmate could not be forced to accept parole. There was also one case, involving, IIRC, an anti-nuclear weapons protester, who wanted to decline Good Time as a political act. The inmate was NOT allowed to refuse the Good Time though, theoretically, she could have committed disciplinary violations to lose at least some Good Time. And to respond to Ben, regardless of whether Mr. Jones accepts the commutation, he will be subject to Supervised Release regardless of when his ultimate release occurs.

Posted by: anon | Oct 18, 2016 10:44:58 AM

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