Friday, January 25, 2013

Good and Mad Reading for the Weekend

Pardons restore rights to people who have paid their debt to society and stayed crime-free. Commutations reduce sentences for reformed people still behind bars, sending them home early.  Both can usually only be granted by a state governor or pardon board; federal offenders can get mercy from only the president.

And both commutations and pardons are on their way to extinction in many states and at the federal level.

In a new issue brief over at the American Constitution Society, former pardon attorney Margaret Love argues that there are still states doing a good job on pardons and commutations and offers suggestions for improving the federal clemency review process, which we all know now is a train wreck.  The interesting paper is definitely worth the read -- but we can't guarantee it won't give you a fever from rage.

New York, however, doesn't appear to be a state that is a great model for President Obama, as described in this New York Times article.  Here's the bad review of that state's clemency situation:
A little more than a year ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s staff reported that it was taking a careful look at applications from people in prison for official mercy. His spokesman promised: “It is a power that the governor will use practically and methodically to help ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.”

He hasn’t used it at all.

Mr. Cuomo has had two years and a month as governor. So far, he has not commuted the sentence of a single one of the 55,000 people in the state prison system, or granted a pardon to any of the tens of thousands of others, in prison and out.

So the quality of mercy is not strained under Mr. Cuomo. It hasn’t even broken a sweat. Gov. Rick Perry in Texas issued 14 pardons just before Christmas; Gov. Jerry Brown in California handed out 79. A Thanksgiving turkey has a better chance of getting a break from President Obama than any federal inmates: No president in modern times has granted fewer pardons than Mr. Obama. “I haven’t used it yet,” Mr. Cuomo said last week in a radio interview. “I’ve considered using it in a number of cases.”
Election season is over, the President's Second Inauguration has come and gone, and still no new commutations or pardons have come from the White House.  There is no perfect time to grant clemency, but now sure seems fine to us.