Monday, January 16, 2012

T. Roosevelt on State Pardons

One of the most objectionable points of our present prison system is the pardoning power. The question is whether it should be in charge of a pardoning board and taken away from the governor, how such a board should be constituted, whether it should be elected or appointed by the legislature or by the governor ...

In the public press of January 19th last, appears an article which sets forth portions of letters from some twenty governors in answer to an inquiry made as to the said governors' experiences with the pardoning power and their recommendations. Practically without exception they advocated a board of pardons, acting either in an advisory capacity or as an actual pardoning board. In the latter case, the governor should be and always is, I think, a member of the board. The general argument of the governors is that a governor has too many important matters as the executive of the state to enable him to do full justice to the petitions for pardons and commutation of sentences.

Fundamentally the matter is much more serious than the incursion upon the governor's time. The sense of justice of any community is very keen and not by any means always in proportion to the facts. Particularly sensitive are our people, as they should be, to the apparent abuse of the pardoning power. The board of pardons should be deliberative and not hasty in its action. It would be subject to criticism and scrutiny of the people of the state from the standpoint only of this as its sole function. Such a pardoning board should be non-political and composed of men of high integrity and sound judgment. - Theodore Roosevelt (1913)

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