'Tis the Season for Clemency

Today President Bush announced 19 pardons and one commutation, the latter for Reed Prior, a man serving a life sentence for selling methamphetamine. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which has championed Prior's case, welcomed the president's decision:

Since going to prison in 1996, Reed has overcome his addiction and begun tutoring other inmates and spreading the message to young people that drugs are destructive. Reed has extensive support from the community, including the judge who sentenced him.

FAMM President Julie Stewart adds:

There are thousands of individuals like Reed Prior still serving excessive mandatory prison terms for nonviolent offenses.  We hope the president will grant more clemencies to these worthy applicants before the end of his term.

Of course, clemencies only underscore the larger problem—the systemic injustice caused by mandatory minimum sentences that fill the prisons with low-level drug offenders in the first place.  Mandatory minimum drug sentences are responsible for a federal prison population of over 200,000 people. They cost taxpayers a fortune, and they do little to reduce drug use.  We hope the next Congress will repeal these ineffective laws so that courts can once again tailor sentences to fit the individual's role in the offense. 

Last week Kemba Smith, a first-time offender who went to prison in 1994 because her boyfriend was a crack dealer and would have remained there until 2016 had Bill Clinton not commuted her sentence, explained "the wisdom of pardons" in USA Today. She urged Bush, who before he took office expressed support for eliminating the unjust sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder, to use his clemency power "with thoughtful deliberation," noting that "clemency is sometimes the only possible response to unfair and excessive penalties."

According to USA Today, today's batch of clemency actions brings Bush's total to 191 pardons and nine commutations—"fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Reagan issued during their two terms." Last year I urged Bush to catch up. Last month Radley Balko urged Barack Obama not to take Bush as his model of mercy. 

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  • Orange Line Special||

    Thanks in advance to Reason for not discussing the most famous pardons not granted. Bush has gotta let those people know who's boss so they don't impact the profits.

  • ||

    Last week Kemba Smith, a first-time offender who went to prison in 1994 because her boyfriend was a crack dealer and would have remained there until 2016 had Bill Clinton not commuted her sentence, explained "the wisdom of pardons" in USA Today.

    If it was her boyfriend who committed the crime, why did she go to jail?

  • Randy Andy||

    It's a gulag, and we live in a police state Stalin would be proud of. Soon we will have enforced universal health care and capital-killing regulations. The pinkos are winning!

  • Orange Line Special||

    I spoke too soon. One of Bush's pardons was actually quite Reason-friendly.

  • ||

    Hey BG,
    Kemba was charged in a federal court with a conspiracy to distribute crack. Although the prosecutors acknowledged the fact that she never sold or used drugs, the law carries a heavy sentence if you are convicted of even conspiracy. This lady fell into the wrong crowd when she went away to college, where she met her boyfriend who was mentally, physically and emotionally abusive.

  • ||

    Wait, wait, wait. Someone must have screwed up the story here. There's no way that a drug user could become a good and productive person. He did DRUGS! He's more of a menace to society than billionaire Ponzi schemes!

    Gotta applaud Bush for this one. As one particularly well-phrased headline put it, If You Oppose This Pardon, You're High.

  • ||

    I don't have an opinion on Bush's pardon record, but let's not assume it's inferior to Clinton's based on sheer numbers. Clinton's pardons include a number seemingly granted for political advantage, and some that were more or less sold.

  • ||

    Wow man, Dictator Bush is jsut going mad isnt he? Kinda scary isnt it!

    jess
    www.PRivacy-CEnter.net

  • ||

    I wish Bush would have Anonymity Guy extraordinarily rendered. I could excuse it just that one time.

    On topic, this is actually a good sign that Bush isn't completely immune to reason in these cases. Hopefully we'll see more.

  • Mad Max||

    One of Bush's many, many failings is that he endorsed a theory of executive power not sanctioned by the constitution, while failing to adequately use the powers the constitution actually grants him.

    With a more vigorous use of the veto and pardon powers, Bush could have shown how a President can govern energetically without using the Constitution as a doormat. In fact, a proper use of the veto and pardon powers is often necessary to defend the Constitution.

    Perhaps Obama will get more serious about pardoning people. If he's as radical a leftist as he's portrayed, maybe he will exhibit the sterotypically leftist tendency to show clemency to convicts.

  • ||

    Kemba was charged in a federal court with a conspiracy to distribute crack. Although the prosecutors acknowledged the fact that she never sold or used drugs, the law carries a heavy sentence if you are convicted of even conspiracy. This lady fell into the wrong crowd when she went away to college, where she met her boyfriend who was mentally, physically and emotionally abusive.

    I see.

    I wonder if the law requires some overt act -an act that is clearly in furtherence of future planned drug distribution. The last sentence of your explaination makes it sound like the law allows them to prosecute anyone who associates with a drug dealer. If so, that is an outrageous assumption of power by the state.

    Of course, all drugs should be legalized, selling to informed consenting adults should not be a crime, etc.

  • Mad Max||

    It seems that President Bush is trying to un-pardon one of the 19:

    http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2008_12_21-2008_12_27.shtml#1230231241

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