Monday, September 5, 2016

The Guardian: Now or Never?

The Guardian has a lengthy, but interesting story, oddly titled, "'This is our chance': advocates fear criminal justice reform after Obama." For the record, let us say that we do not fear reform re federal executive clemency, we absolutely crave it. Political scientists have called for it for over 100 years. The current system is broken, badly. It has been so for some time. It desperately needs to be reformed.

More understandably, the piece notes:
... others are concerned that their window of opportunity is shrinking as the president prepares to leave office, and advocates worry the Obama administration is not on track to process the thousands of applications of those deemed eligible. 
Indeed. We share the same concern. We wish the president had not waited longer than any Democratic president in history to grant the first pardon of his administration. We wish his first term had not been the least merciful since that of John Adams. We wish he had simply granted an amnesty to deserving prisoners instead of essentially out-sourcing the pardon power and waiting until the end of his administration to act on commutation applications.

Talk about the wrong way to do the right thing !

Interestingly, the piece notes Hillary Clinton "has spoken openly about criminal justice reform that will require approval from Congress" but "has remained tight-lipped on the issue of clemency." That's why Jason Hernandez, founder of Crack Open the Door, grimly guesses that "whoever does not get out by the time President Obama leaves office is more than likely gonna die in there.” Rachel Barkow, director of Center on the Administration of Criminal Law notes, similarly:
“Once President Obama leaves, if he hasn’t answered each petition that’s before him, they’ll just stay in the pardon attorney’s office for the next president and whoever the next president is will decide if they want to continue with this policy.”
Clinton has "outlined a clear agenda for criminal justice reform on her website," but "there is no mention of what her policy on clemency would be." Nor did the Clinton campaign respond to questions on her policy re clemency. The Guardian was referred to her website.

Mark Osler, law professor at the University of St Thomas, notes those "platforms" (on the website) would "make a lot of sense" if she were "running for congress” and adds:
“It’s striking that someone running for president would completely ignore one of the few tools that are entirely within the hands of the president.” 
The Guardian suggests that an "archaic system used to process clemency applications" has "hampered" the processing of commutation applications and credits Clemency Project 2014 for 673 commutations granted in the Obama administration. We can only agree in a highly qualified manner. There is no doubt the clemency process needs to be moved out of the Department of Justice. But one cannot simply ignore the clear lack of presidential will, and interest, in clemency that has dominated this administration for so long. Second, with the stroke of a pen, an amnesty could be granted, putting an end to the plodding bureaucratic layers of the DOJ and CP 2014. Finally, we do not have a sense that CP 2014 is responsible for all 673 commutations, or even half of them. See full story here.

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