Monday, December 10, 2012

Heritage Panel Asks: Where's the Mercy?

Today at the Heritage Foundation, a distinguished group of experts gathered and discussed why, after about 1,400 days in office, President Obama has granted only 22 pardons and one commutation (sentence reduction) to federal prisoners and ex-prisoners.

You can watch the full event here.

The problem has numerous possible sources, because the grants of pardons and commutations have been dwindling since the Reagan administration.  Some of it is political -- presidents may be too busy or worried about looking soft on crime to use the pardon power, and granting clemency has been seen as much more precarious since Willie Horton and Marc Rich.  Some of it has to do with the process:  thousands of applications are filed and denied by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is housed in the Department of Justice -- it's like the fox is guarding the henhouse.

The panelists offer some good solutions:  make the pardon attorney a political appointee who answers directly to the president; remove the Office of the Pardon Attorney from the Justice Department and make it an independent board, so that it doesn't suffer from prosecutorial bias; have the president establish a blue ribbon commission to review the current system and make recommendations for improving it.

FAMM supports a vigorous, regular, transparent, and fair administration of the pardon power.  There are too many people in our prisons who are serving absurdly lengthy sentences they no longer need because of their extraordinary rehabilitation.  We just need a system that will actually give them the justice they deserve.

FAMM, The Constitution Project, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Heritage Foundation co-sponsored the event.  Learn more about commutations here.