Reform the Pardon Process

By · Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

President Obama ought to order the Department of Justice to reform the pardon process. Access to a Presidential pardon could be an effective tool in motivating prisoners to commit to prison adjustments that would help them emerge as successful, law-abiding citizens. For pardons to serve as a force for good, however, the President must order a reform of the process.

The U.S. Constitution provides the President with the power to pardon people convicted of federal crimes. Different types of pardons exist, however. Through acts of executive clemency, the pardon can forgive or excuse a criminal conviction, amnesty can absolve an individual or a class of individuals from criminal prosecution, a reprieve can postpone the imposition of sanctions, and a sentence commutation can lower the severity of a criminal sentence.

President Obama should reform the pardon process because the federal prison system has become too large. Federal prisons confine more than 200,000 prisoners, and as the pardon process exists today, only the well connected have a chance of making an effective case for the President to consider whether an individual merits consideration for clemency.

When the founders of our country imbued the office of the President with the power to pardon, they did not envision criminal sentences that would confine hundreds of thousands. Further, long-term imprisonment should require some type of review. The interest of justice should warrant an inquiry as to whether multiple decades in prison meet the need of our evolving society. Without a federal parole board in place, the President ought to have a more effective system to evaluate whether continued incarceration is appropriate for all federal prisoners.

 Although an act of executive clemency is really an act of grace, or compassion, if offenders had a mechanism through which they could work toward earning meaningful consideration for clemency, many more prisoners would strive to build records that might advance their candidacy. I would like to see a system in place that would reward those who built long records of working to reconcile with society. President Obama could instruct those within the pardon office to evaluate such offenders on a regular basis, and political connections should not have as much influence on decision as records of merit.

With 200,000 people in federal prison, it seems inconceivable to me that the pardon attorney should consider so few for the grace of clemency. More clemency requests were granted when our nation’s prison system confined fewer than 40,000 prisoners. That evidence suggests the President and the Department of Justice ought to reform the pardon process.

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