Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Vote for Humans!

Today at 2 p.m. EST, President Obama will pardon yet another pair of turkeys, named Cobbler and Gobbler.  The White House is even having a Facebook campaign in which you can vote for your favorite of the two birds.

Yes, the Thanksgiving turkey pardon may be a fun and/or silly tradition, but it becomes an absurdity when thousands of nonviolent drug offenders go to prison every year and serve lengthy and unjust mandatory sentences that completely ignore the individuality of the offender and the special facts and circumstances of the crime.  Commutations (sentence reductions) are one of the only avenues for correcting an unjust sentence, and yet presidents increasingly fail to use that power. President Obama has granted only one commutation, out of over 6,200 he has received while in office.  This is tragic, because we live in a time when clemency is needed more than ever before.

This math suggests that there are deep, profound problems in the way the clemency power is being administered.  Out of 6,200 applicants, surely there are more than just one who deserve a second chance and a fresh start, who have rehabilitated themselves and paid their debts to society.  The stats undeniably show that what was once a regular, routine procedure has instead become an exercise in futility for thousands of prisoners and their families.  Fixing the broken-down clemency process is essential, but so is granting more commutations and pardons.

Mr. President, this Thanksgiving we vote for more clemency for human beings.