Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pardon People, Not Turkeys

Eric E. Sterling
This is the time of year when we have to suffer through a wave of stories about presidential "pardoning" of turkeys. And there are always - always - several articles by persons investigating the history of the practice, blah, blah, blah. If there is ever a "good side" to all of this nonsense, it is the occasional editorial piece that appears in the news cycle which blasts away at the stupidity of it all. Eric E. Sterling, Executive Director, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, is this year's star. He has a piece at Huffington Post.

Sterling calls turkey pardoning:
" ... an unintentionally cruel mocking of this important power that is last hope of tens of thousands of children who ache to be reunited with parents who have spent their lives in federal prison, and which President Obama has incomprehensibly failed to use adequately."
His editorial observes that "about 11,000" people "have have been waiting for President Obama to answer their petitions to commute their prison sentences." In a really great passage he writes:
The revolutionary lawyers who shaped the Constitution -- John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams -- knew that even the best justice system inevitably makes mistakes and a mechanism to address those mistakes must be regularly used. The primacy of this power in the eyes of the framers of the Constitution is revealed because they put this power in the same sentence that makes the President the Commander in Chief. 
Sterling notes that the federal prison population "exploded from 24,640 in 1980, to 219,298 by 2013" and "that mass incarceration is unjust, tragic and wasteful."  To make matters worse, "the ultimate institutional safety valve, the President's power of reprieve and pardon, was undermined and broken."
Leaving office, President George W. Bush suggested to the new President Barack Obama that he address this issue. The President and the Attorney General have failed to fix the broken Office of the Pardon Attorney that supports the President's reprieve and pardon decision-making. 
President Obama has clearly "failed" and Sterling finds his inaction "incomprehensible" because 1) "an enormous fraction of Americans agree that there are tens of thousands of federal prisoners serving unjustly long sentences for drug offenses 2) "in hundreds of cases over the years, federal judges [confessed] from the bench that the sentence was unjustly long" 3) "the mismanagement of the Pardon Attorney's Office [remains] unfixed" 4) "petitions that have been sent to him [have] been functionally ignored and languishing.

Read this very fine editorial in its entirity here, and a list of 25 women referenced therein here.

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