Monday, January 14, 2013

Obama's Unpardonable Neglect of Clemency

That's the title of this heartfelt column from former Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich in The Baltimore Sun.

The last week of 2012 saw the Office of the Inspector General torch the president's pardon attorney regarding the inappropriate withholding of information that could have led to the release of Clarence Aaron, an African-American college student who was given a life sentence for a first time, nonviolent drug offense in 1993.

The dysfunction described in the Aaron case is not new, nor should it be surprising. After all, the office is located within the same agency (Department of Justice) that prosecutes cases in the first place. Further, critical views of the pardon office's bureaucracy have been around for years.

In his book "Decision Points," former President George W. Bush recounts his frustration with the pardon process in the context of the Scooter Libby (Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff) obstruction of justice case. The president's advice to incoming President Barack Obama on Inauguration Day, 2009: "Announce a pardon policy early on, and stick to it." Alas, the Obama administration has shown no such interest in fixing a broken system.

Although slow to the dance, President Bush was correct in bemoaning his lost opportunity. 1980s-era sentencing laws have led to historic incarceration rates in the U.S. The ugly facts speak for themselves:

• In 1980, the U.S. incarceration rate was 150 per 100,000 citizens; today, it's 753;

• this rate of incarceration compares to 153 in Great Britain, 96 in France, and 90 in Germany;

• the U.S. now imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world.

Hopefully, a second term Obama administration will do the right thing. Our federal system houses many thousands of nonviolent drug-related offenders. Each inmate costs the taxpayers in excess of $28,000 per year. I believe the vast majority are no threat to reoffend. Their cases should be reviewed within the context of a newly invigorated federal review process.

Only one man can effectuate this change. Mr. President, it's time to act.
Hear, hear!