Thanks to the Real Cost of Prisons.
“No Country for Second Chances”– Obama still has not granted one pardon and has turned down 605 requests for commutations
No Country for Second Chances
By GEORGE LARDNER Jr.
November 23, 2010- NY Times
LAST February, after long delays, the Justice Department sent President Obama hundreds of recommendations on requested pardons, each one carefully selected for a quick decision under standards for clemency that presidents have followed for decades.
Under these standards, no pardon can be recommended unless a petitioner has been out of prison and law-abiding for at least five years.
Most of the recommendations President Obama received called for a no, but some, according to people who recently left the administration, strongly favored a pardon. Nevertheless, Mr. Obama has yet to judge a single person worthy of his grace.
If by tomorrow he pardons no one but turkeys, President Obama will have the most sluggish record in this area of any American president except George W. Bush. He’ll have outdone George Washington, who granted a pardon after 669 days. And he will also have outlasted Bill Clinton, who took three days longer than Washington to grant his first pardons. If Mr. Obama waits until Christmas Eve, he will make even his immediate predecessor, who waited until Dec. 23, 2002, seem more generous.
Last month, President Obama turned down 605 requests for commutations — from prisoners who wanted their sentences shortened — and 71 for pardons.
It’s difficult to understand why the president has been so unwilling to grant any clemency. As someone who has taught constitutional law, he knows that the founders gave him, and him alone, the power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.” It is likely that he also knows that a disproportionate number of federal prisoners are black, that mandatory sentencing guidelines have left many of them with excessive sentences and that at least a few of them deserve clemency, whether they’ve asked for it or not.
The president has not only the power but also the responsibility to grant clemency when it is warranted. A pardon can help a worthy former prisoner qualify for a job or a license. But mainly it restores the person’s civil rights, including the right to vote.
What could be holding up Mr. Obama? There is no question that the federal pardon process is flawed. It has been handled by a tiny staff in the Justice Department’s office of the pardon attorney, which has worked for years in a climate of official hostility to any grants of clemency. (As Samuel Morison, a lawyer who worked in the pardon attorney’s office, recently wrote, the view inside the Justice Department is that the pardon attorney should mainly “defend the department’s prosecutorial prerogatives.”) Recommendations for a pardon or a commutation require a great deal of investigation; in most cases, the pardon attorney’s easiest course is to advise that the president say no.
Read the rest here.
George Lardner Jr., an associate at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, is working on a history of the presidential pardon power.
See also this poem written in 1893 by Voltairine de Cleyre:
John P. Altgeld
(After an incarceration for six long years in Joliet state prison for an act of which they were entirely innocent, namely, the throwing of the Haymarket bomb, in Chicago, May 4th, 1886, Oscar Neebe, Michael Scwab, and Samuel Fielden, were liberated by Gov. Altgeld, who thus sacrificed his political career to an act of justice.)
There was a tableau! Liberty’s clear light
Shone never on a braver scene than that,
Here was a prison, there a Man, who sat
High in the halls of State! Beyond, the might
Of Ignorance and mobs whose hireling Press
Yells at their bidding like the slaver’s hounds,
Ready with coarse caprice to curse or bless,
To make or unmake rulers! — Lo, there sounds
A grating of the doors! And three poor men
Helpless and hated, having nought to give,
Come from their long-sealed tomb, look up, and
And thank this Man that they are free again.
And He — to all the world this Man dares say:
“Curse as you will! I have been just this day.”
Philadelphia, June 1893