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November 26, 2016

Terrific content and context for Prez Obama's clemency work at Pardon Power

DebLong-time readers know that the blog Pardon Power is a must-read for anyone who cares about clemency policies and practices.  Of particular importance and value, P.S. Ruckman's work at  Pardon Power consistently provides needed theoretical and historical context for better understanding recent clemency activities rather than falling prey to the the modern media tendency to follow and obsess over the latest "shiny object" of clemency.  Great examples of why Pardon Power is a must-read these days as we move into the twilight of the Obama era are these recent posts of note over the holiday weekend:

Obama's 1,000th Commutation: Hold the Fireworks.

Obama Could (Should) Go EPIC.

Obama's Legacy: Institutional Change v. An "Example"

Turkey "Pardons." Why?

Obama: Breaking Records in a Broken System

Though I recommend highly all these posts, the last of the bunch has the most far-reaching and trenchant analysis. Here is how that piece starts and ends:

It seems more than likely that, before he leaves office, President Obama will break Woodrow Wilson's record for commutations of sentence.  It is, however, more than a little amazing (if not highly informative) to compare the use of federal executive clemency in the two administrations.

By the time he left the White House, Wilson had granted 1,087 presidential pardons (as well as 226 respites and 148 remissions). Obama, however, has granted a mere 70 pardons, the lowest number granted by any president serving at least one full term since John Adams.  It doesn't seem likely that Obama will pass out 1,000 plus pardons between now and the end of the term.  But there appears to be little concern about it on any front. So, it is what it is.

Consequently, clemency, for Obama, has meant β€” for the most part β€” commutations of sentence, almost exclusively for those convicted of drug offenses.  And these grants have β€” for the most part β€” been granted late in his second term.  Indeed, the Obama administration already features the largest 4th-year clemency surge of any administration in history....

The federal prison population has boomed since Wilson's day.  The Obama administration has been receiving record numbers of clemency applications, for years. On top of that, thousands remain in prison who were sentenced under drug laws which have been undone.  The merciless neglect of the current clemency system needs to tanked.  The process needs to be removed from career prosecutors in the DOJ who are unable / unwilling to process clemency applications in a timely fashion, with an eye toward mercy.  The broken system has famously lacked transparency (since 1932) and, today, it even exempts itself FOIA law.

It is time to create a permanent clemency board / commission (a device often used in the states) in the Executive Office of the President of the United States.  It is time for mercy to emerge once again as a regular feature of criminal justice.  It's not just about numbers.  It is about balance, fairness.  It is about rehabilitation and restoration.  It's about presidents using a power that was given to them ... to use ... not to abuse, or neglect.

November 26, 2016 at 02:00 PM | Permalink


If Congress had any savy and not put all emphasis on getting re elected, they too could contribute to chopping down the Mandatories and Acca as ridiculous as it is.

Constructive possession is a farce on gun & ammo possession.

Congress has no guts at all.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Nov 27, 2016 12:16:40 AM

Thank you, President Obama. One of yours killed a mother and her two children. This is just the beginning of the Obama legacy.

Non-violent drug dealers are serial killers of their competitors. That caused the crack induced murder epidemic of the 1980's, prompting mandatory guidelines.


Posted by: David Behar | Nov 27, 2016 6:52:21 AM

Reading "Death on Hold" where two conservatives who wrote against FDR helped a guy get off death row. Maybe, one of their ilk can work to reform pardons in the Trump White House.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 27, 2016 11:09:31 AM

So, because one clemency recipient may have committed an offense after being released, we should end all clemency grants? Better to keep your mouth shut than to speak and remove all doubt. Google it...

Posted by: Mark M. | Nov 27, 2016 3:05:39 PM

Mark M.: You should understand the layers of ignorance in David's comment before responding on the merits. The Callahan case referenced by David has nothing to do with clemency, as Callahan was released due to congressional reform of crack sentences and the decision by the US Sentencing Commission to make these reforms retroactive and the decisions by a prosecutor and judge concluding it was safe to give Callahan the benefit of these reforms. Literally hundreds of federal officials and appointees were directly or indirectly involved in Callahan's release, though only Callahan himself is truly responsible for his crimes.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 27, 2016 10:47:31 PM

The man who killed a woman and her two kids was NOT a recipient of Presidential Clemency. He had been released long before through a small automatic reduction of sentence that was part of a change of law...Drugs minus 2...I believe. So President Obama and the White House had nothing to do with it. However....if you wait long enough out of the 1000 who received Clemency, at least one or two will f...k up....Does that mean the 1,000 who will gratefully accept their second chance at life should all be kept in prison? Why don't we just make every infraction punishable by a life sentence and never release ANYONE....well....in fact our system is now evolving towards thatπŸ˜€

Posted by: Patricia williams | Nov 28, 2016 4:58:45 AM

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