Friday, August 5, 2016

Mass Jailbreak, My Eye!

At Crime and Consequences, Bill Otis credits President Obama for his "remarkable success" at engineering the "latest installment of the mass jailbreak" - 214 commutations of sentence granted earlier this week. Indeed, the White House has boasted that the 562 commutations of sentence the President has granted to date amount to "more than the previous nine presidents combined." Says Otis:
Now, when a President commutes more sentences than his nine predecessors combined -- that would be going back more than 50 years -- some might say that this reflects an extremist view of clemency. But no! Barack Obama is the only one marching in step! Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush II were all out of step. 
Well, more seriously, it reflects 1) a political environment that, for decades, over-emphasized the retributive model of criminal justice and politicians - in the spotlight of hostile, sensationalist media - more willing to err on the side of caution (by doing nothing) when it came to federal executive clemency - a check and balance explicitly placed in the Constitution. Of course, it also reflects the fact that 2) President Obama has received exponentially more applications for commutations of sentence than the previous nine presidents. Finally, however any of us (including Otis) may feel about it, 3) both parties in both chambers of Congress have revised sentencing laws deemed inefficient, if not outright unfair, and our over-crowded, expensive prisons are increasingly suspect as a tax payer investment. It makes perfect sense that President Obama would employ the pardon power to address retroactive disparities / inconsistencies consequent to this Congressional revision because it happened during his administration. He is certainly not the first president to utilize such an approach.

As an aside, we are guessing Otis is not aware of the fact that, for a considerable portion of time, presidents granted as many commutations as they did pardons. Sometimes, they even granted more commutations than they did pardons.

But, let's go to lah-lah land for a minute and add 1,000 commutations of sentence to President Obama's current total. Here is what the "mass jailbreak" would look like:

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

See Otis' full commentary here.

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