According to the Washington Post, one of the administration’s motives was, oddly, its wish to help “eliminate overcrowding in federal prisons.” If that’s the case, Obama is trying to bail out Lake Michigan with a paint can. The federal prison population has increased by more than 700 percent since 1980 and the number of inmates now exceeds the Bureau of Prisons bed capacity by 35 percent to 40 percent, requiring the use of contract prisons, halfway houses and other makeshifts. Even if the president could free another batch of eight prisoners every week for a year, his mercy will still have touched only about one-fifth of 1 percent of the inmates in federal prisons.Olson (probably wrongly) argues the "drought" of presidential clemency "can be traced back 25 years" but (rightly) "there is no shortage of prisoners being held long after they have met reasonable objectives of deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation."
But, we agree with Olson that "another shake-up of pardon procedures is overdue" and that "the initiative needs to come from the White House." Obama's recent commutation of eight sentences "barely counts as a start." See full editorial here.