The Sweeping Presidential Power To Help Prisoners That Holder Didn’t Mention

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This ProPublica Article by Cora Currier, published Wednesday, examines the Obama Administration’s Spartan invocation of the power of the Presidential Pardon, alongside Attorney General Eric Holder’s arbitrary interpretation of his own promise to get “smart on crime.” Taken together, they demonstrate a mystifying take on Americans’ due process and civil liberties; one that veers closer to totalitarianism than to liberalism in its classic sense.

 

by Cora Currier

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the impacts of “draconian” sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” said Holder.

But in unveiling the new “smart on crime” initiative, Holder skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence.

President Obama has given just one person early release from prison. As ProPublica has documented, Obama has overall granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, which includes both commutations – early release – and pardons. Last year, ProPublica reported that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney rarely gives positive clemency recommendations to the president. Experts have been calling for reform of the entire clemency process.

“Holder’s speech begs the question, why is not more attention given to the broken pardons office?” said Robert Ehrlich, a former Republican governor of Maryland who recently started a law clinic devoted to pardons.

One person who is still waiting to hear about his petition for commutation is Clarence Aaron. He has been in prison since 1993, when he was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a drug deal. Aaron was not the buyer, seller, nor supplier of the drugs. It was his first criminal offense.

The White House ordered a fresh review of Aaron’s petition last year after ProPublica found that the  pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, had misrepresented Aaron’s case when it was brought to President George W. Bush. An Inspector General’s report released in December supported ProPublica’s findings, and referred the incident to the Deputy Attorney General to determine if “administrative action is appropriate.”

Nine months later, Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle says the “issues raised in the report are still being examined.”

In his speech, Holder expressed concern about racial disparities in sentencing and treatment of prisoners. In 2011, a ProPublica investigation found that whites were four times as likely to receive pardons as minorities. Following our story, the Justice Department commissioned a study on racial disparities in pardons. Hornbuckle says that study is “ongoing.”

“The clemency process will need to be invigorated both from the bottom up and the top down,” said Jeffrey Crouch, a professor at American University, who wrote a book on pardons. “One step is the pardon attorney giving applicants a fair review and a positive recommendation. The other step is President Obama being more willing to use his pardon power.”

For now, Holder’s initiative has little to offer prisoners already behind bars. He directed prosecutors to avoid charges that carried mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and urged the passage of legislation to change those sentencing requirements. But in 2010, there were more than 75,000 people in federal custody that had been given mandatory sentences.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls asking, does this mean my loved one gets to go home?” said Molly Gill, government affairs counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “For the vast majority of people it doesn’t change their sentences and it isn’t retroactive.” (Holder did expand “compassionate release” for some elderly prisoners.)

While clemency does not generally reach wide swaths of prisoners, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter used it to affect policy on a larger scale, creating programs to forgive thousands of Vietnam War draft evaders.

In the 1960s, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy also took a stand against what he described as “grossly unjust” outcomes of sentencing practices – and used commutations to do so. He directed federal prison wardens to seek out and bring him prisoners deserving of early release. Kennedy acknowledged that presidential commutations were “at best only stop-gaps” in a sentencing regime that needed reform. President John F. Kennedy commuted 100 sentences in total, and President Lyndon B. Johnson 226.

Mark Osler, a law professor at St. Thomas University who runs a clinic on commutations, said Obama could also do more. “Holder’s emphasis on how wrong these laws have been, and how damaging the Justice Department’s enforcement of those laws has been, gives me hope that this only the first step,” Osler said.

ProPublica

is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. The organization’s work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” ProPublica seeks to produce journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them. ProPublica is headquartered in Manhattan. Its establishment was announced in October 2007. Operations commenced in January 2008, and publishing began in June 2008. http://www.propublica.org/

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  • Jeff

    I fully agree he could do a lot more in this regard. Keep in mind, though, that this President is constantly accused of favoring minorities and of re-forming the New Black Panthers and other such nonsense. And that’s when he does nothing. Maybe he’s a little gun shy about giving more ammo to the crazies.

  • Vis Fac

    “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” said Holder.

    Tell that to my grieving wife and children after a liberal judge let a three time felon out on the streets to murder my youngest son take his car and money for a fix. This clown was a career felon who often carjacked people and later invaded their homes to steal their belongings.

    Anyone who takes sells or facilitates drugs is a criminal who has nothing to offer society and should be eliminated period. I would like to see US do as they do in China where the family bears the expense of the state and pays for the firing squad and bullets. That is how you fight a war on drugs!

    Don’t ask me to feel compassion for losers who aren’t strong enough to face reality without drugs. These people have no character or respect for themselves or others. I have empathy for their families but that is the extent of my concern.

    I can throw stones because I and my entire family have never used controlled substances robbed or assaulted anyone. We have been victimized but never initiated any confrontation.
    Lastly do not dare and judge me for you have yet to walk a mile in my shoes.

    The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing–Edmund Burke

    A republic is defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president…Our republic no longer exists…
    A democracy can best be described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch with a well armed sheep contesting the vote!

    Libertas inaestimabilis res est

    Semper-Fi

    • pt

      I wont dare judge you, but you seem to judge a lot of people.

      • Vis Fac

        If you have seen what I have endured what I have you would be little judgmental too Like I sad you have yet to walk a mile in my shoes. I have ben quite benevolent donating my time and money to people and organizations who want more and not the least bit thankful for what is given.

        I have learned this to be the essence of most people today the “you owe me attitude” Iv’e seen people panhandle asking for work to feed a hungry family. I had once gone out of my way to buy food for his children who were at his side and when he thought I was out of sight quickly dumped what I had bought in the trash. That person was not honest he did not want work or food for his children, he only wanted money.

        This was merely one instance of many I witnessed Jaded maybe completely disappointed definitely I see the same attitudes here with our liberal friends. Yes I think I am entitled to express my opinions.

        The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing–Edmund Burke

        A republic is defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president…Our republic no longer exists…
        A democracy can best be described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch with a well armed sheep contesting the vote!

        Libertas inaestimabilis res est

        Semper-Fi

        • mark

          OK, tough guy. I guess this makes you feel like a man to pound your chest on the internet and talk down to everyone about how superior your family is – and how you would wipe everyone out if you were in charge of the justice system. Just wanted you to know it doesn’t impress me or anyone else one iota. We’re all just glad you currently have zero power in our society and will no doubt continue with that status for the rest of your life.

          • Vis Fac

            I am a man but don’t need to “pound my chest” as you say to feel like one and yes I have had to be tough at times to cope with others have forced upon me and my family.

            If you somehow feel inferior it is not my fault you are weak and have no self discipline. It is not my fault if you are strung out on drugs or cannot find suitable employment. It is not my fault if you are a failure IT”S YOUR FAULT and no one else’s!

            I can see you have taken the roll to speak for everyone on the planet because of your statement “We’re all just glad you currently have zero power in our society” You say I have zero power in society well all I can say is I have power over you because I have elicited some response from effected you which is a good thing. If I hit a nerve or two perhaps you might start thinking for a change.

            Either way I am comfortable with myself and judging by your hostility you are not. If you want to continue doing nothing with your life that is on you don’t get mad at others because you chose the live you have.

            The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing–Edmund Burke

            A republic is defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president…

            Our republic no longer exists because we have an omnipotent self centered clown in the Oval office who is as unconstitutional as anyone can be. Anyone thinking
            we still live in a republic had best take notice of what OUR elected officials are doing WITHOUT OUR consent. Our republic no longer exists because the people no longer have power!

            …A democracy can best be described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch with a well armed sheep contesting the vote! This too shall be a
            fond memory for our rubber stamp liberally controlled congress is eagerly waiting to disarm us.

            Libertas inaestimabilis res est

            Semper-Fi

  • V8RX

    Holder is talking about Non violent drug crimes,Letting these people go!! Why don’t we JUST LEGALISE DRUGS?? Portugal DID!! And NOTHING CHANGED as far as peoples use of them!!! BUT VIOLENT CRIME WENT DOWN!!!! NO GANGS TO WAR WITH EACH OTHER OVER THEM AND COPS WERE SAFER,BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T HAVE DRUG DEALERS SHOOTING AT THEM!!! Instead of ALL THE NEW [expketive deleted]TAXES OBAMA WANTS TO IMPOSE,LEGALISE DRUGS AND TAX THE HELL OUT OF THEM!!!

  • V8RX

    Add on to last comment. STUFFEN THE SENTENCES FOR CRIMES THAT ARE RELATED TO DRUGS!!! Like someone stealing to get money to buy drugs!!