Monday, June 1, 2015

Procedural Problems v. Courage Problems

USA Today notes "billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and top officials in his company are calling for the Obama administration to release from prison the thousands of non-violent offenders who qualify for clemency under a Justice Department initiative." The administration, of course, expressed its own interest in doing so 14 months ago, but has granted very few commutations of sentence since.

A Koch Industries' senior vice president and general counsel notes, "people got their hopes up. Why isn't it going any faster?" Indeed, the Editor of this blog wonders the same since, increasingly, "this is not a left or right issue" and the President "has a real, golden opportunity to exercise clemency without facing a hyper law-and-order backlash."

Expectations. Ah, yes. Expectations.

When, after several years of indifference, Deputy Attorney General Cole (in 2014) expressed the administration's desire to have more applications for commutation of sentence, many took that as an "unprecedented" action of considerable significance. "Hope and Change" were - at last - on their way. But, the problem with that - in the eyes of the most casual observer - was that the Obama administration was already receiving (and denying) record numbers of such applications. There wasn't anything like a shortage of applications for anyone to correct / address.

Click on image (above) to enlarge.
Were all of those applications of ridiculously poor quality? Just not the right people? Hard to believe. Tell that to Barbara Scrivner, whose ridiculously long prison sentence was recently commuted by President Obama. President Bush (George W.) had denied her application. But, guess what? Obama had, previously, DENIED her application as well. What does that tell you? Before Cole's announcement her application was unacceptable? After, Cole's announcement, it was acceptable? Really? We think not.

There are, apparently, many problems with the clemency process in the United States. Some have been long in the making. But the primary problem is substantive, not technical. It is a matter of poor decision making more than it is a matter of a lack of raw materials (applications). It isn't a matter of tweaking. It is a matter of courage to do what is right.

When all is said and done, the blame cannot be fully, reasonably, be placed at the feet of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the U.S. Pardon Attorney, the Office of the Pardon Attorney or the Department of Justice. It has to be placed a the feet of the man who, as a candidate said:
This is part of my faith, my religious faith, but you don't have to be religious to, I think, believe in the idea of redemption, that people can get a second chance that people can change.
The pardon power is a presidential power. The ball is in the President's court. And it has been there for six long years. See full USA Today story here.

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