Thursday, December 23, 2010

Texas: Clemency Dysfunction

Brandi Grissom gives the clemency process of Texas a lot of needed attention in the Texas Tribune today. After noting Governor Rick Perry (R) recently granted 8 pardons, the piece starts off with this blast:
Pardoning is a holiday tradition of sorts for state governors and the president, who, at the end of each year, name the fortunate few former offenders whose records will get wiped clean ...“It’s not much different than pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey,” says Scott Henson, who writes the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast. “They just pick eight or nine trivial cases at Christmas time.”
While Perry has been no George W. Bush (who granted only 21 pardons), he is making his mark, or non-mark, on clemency. He has granted 180 pardons since 2001. On the other hand, former Governor Mark White (D) granted almost 500 pardons and former Governor Bill Clements (R) granted more than 800. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Sate's Board of Pardons and Paroles (whose members the governor appoints), has recommended clemency to Perry in more than 530 cases. The result, a steady, very slight, trickle of Holiday pardons:
... The practice ... diminishes the value of the clemency process, which is supposed to act as an executive check on the judicial branch of government and provide an incentive for criminals to reform their ways. “It’s unfortunate, I think, when they’re pardoned in December like they are, because it makes the pardon seem more questionable than it should be,” says P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois who is writing a book about pardons. “It also sends the signal that pardons aren’t that important.”
A spokesperson for the governor, however, insists that he "thoughtfully considers the totality of each pardon request before making his decision and considers each one on a case-by-case basis” ... simply ommiting that, evidently, he only does so once or twice year ... during the Holiday season ... despite what his own board says!
In Texas, the Board of Pardons and Paroles would seem to give the governor a kind of political cover, since he can’t grant a pardon without its recommendation. Ruckman says it’s baffling that Perry so often rejects the suggestions of a board whose members he appoints. This year, the board recommended 41 clemency applications to Perry, but he rejected 80 percent of them. “You’ve got to wonder, if he appoints them … why he disagrees with them so much,” Ruckman says.
Margaret Love is also quoted:
Love says that if Perry is worried about political fallout, he would do better to rely more on the board’s pardon recommendations instead of picking through them himself. “He would be able to use his power more generously," she says, "and there is certainly a need.” 
See the complete, very informative, article here.

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