Europe

Outgoing Czech President Vaclav Klaus Pardons Almost One Third of Prisoners

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Almost one third of Czech prisoners have been granted amnesty by outgoing president Vaclav Klaus. The pardons will not affect prisoners serving sentences longer than 10 years.

Mr. Klaus defended the move saying, "This is a gesture aimed at giving a fresh chance to those citizens who may have broken the law but who are not repeat offenders."

The mass pardon has prompted worry and confusion. The head of the supreme court has expressed concerns that the move undermines the rule of law, while Social Democrat politician Jiri Dienstbier described the decision as "unacceptable and incomprehensible."

Judges are preparing to work overtime to implement the pardon, which was partly motivated by the need to ease overcrowding in Czech prisons. The Czech Republic has a prison population of around 23,000 in a prison system that is designed to hold a little over 21,000, and has an incarceration rate of 219 prisoners per 100,000 people. The U.S. has an incarceration rate of over 700 prisoners per 100,000 people. 

Despite the move causing some worry in the Czech Republic perhaps American officials could take some inspiration from Klaus' mass pardon.

Given that almost half of the inmates in our federal prisons are serving time for drug offenses, many of which involved no victim, I can't help but think a mass pardon on this side of the Atlantic would do society some good.

However, as Jacob Sullum has pointed out, Obama's record leaves us no reason to be optimistic:

Yet as president, Obama has granted exactly one commutation so far. This allegedly progressive and enlightened man has been far stingier with pardons and commutations than any of his four most recent predecessors, which is saying something. Now that Obama has been safely re-elected, he has no excuse for failing to use his unilateral, unreviewable power to make our criminal justice system a bit less egregiously unfair.

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