Clemency and Pardon

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Celebrities Urge Obama Forward on Drug, Sentencing Reform [FEATURE]

A coalition of more than 175 artists, actors, athletes, elected officials, and civil rights and civil liberties advocates Tuesday sent an open letter to President Obama urging him to redouble his efforts to shift from a punitive, repressive federal criminal justice policy to one emphasizing prevention and rehabilitation.

Russell Simmons, 2012 Tribeca Film Festival (courtesy David Shankbone via Wikimedia)
The US is the world's leading incarcerator, with more than 2.3 million people behind bars. The US leads the world both in absolute numbers of prisoners and in prisoners per capita, with 715 per capita, comfortably leading the nearest per capita contenders, Russia (584) and Belarus (554).

Of those 2.3 million people behind bars, more than 500,000 are charged with drug offenses. While the number of prisoners being held by the states and the number of drug offenders held by the states have begun to decline slightly in recent years as state-level policy makers grapple with economic problems, the federal prison population continues to grow, driven in part by drug offenders. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were some 95,000 federal drug war prisoners at the end of 2011, nearly half the federal prison population. That's up from only 70,000 a decade ago.

"It is critical that we change both the way we think about drug laws in this country and how we generate positive solutions that leave a lasting impact on rebuilding our communities," said hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who helped organize the star-studded effort. "We need to break the school to prison pipeline, support and educate our younger generations and provide them with a path that doesn’t leave them disenfranchised with limited options."

In the letter, the coalition praised Obama for criminal justice reforms he had undertaken, such as the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced (but did not eliminate) the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, but urged him to do more. "Mr. President, it is evident that you have demonstrated a commitment to pursue alternatives to the enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach and address the increased incarceration rates for non-violent crimes," the letter said. "We believe the time is right to further the work you have done around revising our national policies on the criminal justice system and continue moving from a suppression-based model to one that focuses on intervention and rehabilitation."

The coalition called for specific reforms.

"Some of the initial policies we recommend is, under the Fair Sentencing Act, extend to all inmates who were subject to 100-to-1 crack-to-powder disparity a chance to have their sentences reduced to those that are more consistent with the magnitude of the offense," the letter said. "We ask your support for the principles of the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 619), which allows judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences when they deem appropriate."

The letter also implicitly chided the Obama administration for its failure to make much use of his power to pardon and commute sentences. In fact, Obama has pardoned prisoners or commuted sentences at a much lower rate than any of his recent predecessors. He has granted only 39 pardons and one commutation (of a terminally ill cancer patient) in five years in office, while failing to act on such deserving and well-publicized cases as that of Clarence Aaron, who is now 20 years into a triple life sentence for a cocaine deal in which he was neither the buyer, seller, or supplier of the drugs.

"We ask that you form a panel to review requests for clemency that come to the Office of the Pardon Attorney," the letter said. "Well-publicized errors and omissions by this office have caused untold misery to thousands of people."

The letter also applauded Obama's "staunch commitment" to reentry programs for prisoners who have finished their sentences and urged him to expand those transition programs, and it urged him to support the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (Youth PROMISE) Act (House Bill 1318), "a bill that brings much needed focus on violence and gang intervention and prevention work."

The coalition also asked for a meeting with the president.

"We request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these ideas further and empower our coalition to help you achieve your goals of reducing crime, lowering drug use, preventing juvenile incarceration and lowering recidivism rates," the letter said.

From the Hollywood community, signatories to the letter included: Roseanne Barr, Russell Brand, Jim Carrey, Cedric The Entertainer, Margaret Cho, Cameron Diaz, Mike Epps, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Woody Harrelson, Ron Howard, Eugene Jarecki, Scarlett Johannson, the Kardashians, LL Cool J, Eva Longoria, Demi Moore, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Chris Rock, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Silverman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Mark Wahlberg.

From the music community, signatories included: Big Boi of Outkast, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Chuck D, DJ Envy, DJ Pauly D, Ani Difranco, Missy Elliot, Ghostface Killah, Ginuwine, Jennifer Hudson, Ice-T, Talib Kweli, John Legend, Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Natalie Maines, Nicky Minaj, Busta Rhymes, Rick Ross, RZA, and Angela Yee.

From the civil rights and civil liberties community, signatories included: Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition leader Neill Franklin, Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP head Benjamin Todd Jealous, National Urban League leader Marc Morial, Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann, Rev. Al Sharpton, ACLU head Anthony Romero, Families Against Mandatory Minimums head Julie Stewart, and Dr. Boyce Watkins.

From the faith community, signatories included:  Bishop James Clark, Bishop Noel Jones, Bishop Clarence Laney, Bishop Edgar Vann, Dr. Iva Carruthers, Deepak Chopra, Father Michael Pfleger, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Rabbi Nina Mandel, Rev. Jamal Bryant, Rev. Delman Coates, Rev. Leah D. Daughtry, Rev. Dr. Fredrick Haynes, Rev. Michael McBride, Rev. Dr. W Franklyn Richardson, and Rev. Barbara Skinner Williams.

Media and academic figures who signed on include: CNN's TJ Holmes, Radio One's Cathy Hughes and Alfred Liggins, former MSNBC host (and now hydroponic farmer!) Dylan Ratigan, "The New Jim Crow" author Michelle Alexander, Michael Eric Dyson, Naomi Klein, Julianne Malveaux, and Spelman College's Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum.

Also signing were businessmen Virgin Airlines magnate Sir Richard Branson, US Black Chamber of Commerce head Ron Busby, and St. Louis Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom, elected officials Congressman Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL), and Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and professional athletes Brendon Ayanbadejo, Lamar Odom, Isaiah Thomas, and MikeTyson, among others.

"The letter is intended to be a respectful appeal to the Obama administration asking that we develop productive pathways to supporting families that have been harmed by the War on Drugs," said Dr. Boyce Watkins, author, entrepreneur, and current scholar in residence in entrepreneurship and innovation at Syracuse University. "Countless numbers of children have been waiting decades for their parents to come home, and America is made safer if we break the cycle of mass incarceration. Time is of the essence, for with each passing year that we allow injustice to prevail, our nation loses another piece of its soul. We must carefully examine the impact of the War on Drugs and the millions of living, breathing Americans who've been affected.  It is, quite simply, the right thing to do."

"So called 'tough on crime' policies have failed our nation and its families, while 'smart on crime' policies work," said NAACP head Benjamin Todd Jealous. "When we know that drug treatment is seven times more effective than incarceration for drug addicts, basic human decency demands our nation makes the switch. The fate of hundreds of people and the children who need them home and sober hang in the balance. Great progress is being made in states from New York to Georgia with strong bipartisan support. The time has come for all of us to do all that we can. The future of our families, states, and nation demand it."

Will President Obama respond to this clarion call for action? Stay tuned.

Obama Administration to Review Clarence Aaron Commutation Request

Clarence Aaron
The Obama administration is seeking a fresh review of Clarence Aaron's request for commutation of his cocaine trafficking sentence, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Aaron, a first-offender, was sentenced to three life terms in 1993 for his minor role in a cocaine deal. He has since become a poster child for sentencing reform and, more recently, for pardons and commutation reform.

The Justice Department will also undertake a broader review of recommendations for presidential pardons. Under scrutiny will be the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which has been under increasing criticism since the Post and Pro Publica published stories in December about racial disparities in the process and more stories in May about Clarence Aaron's ordeal.

The December stories found that whites were four times more likely to win pardons and commutations than blacks, while the stories on Aaron showed that he was denied a commutation in 2008 despite having the support of the prosecutors' office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him, after the pardon attorney didn't tell the White House about the support.

Aaron filed a new commutation request in 2011, and that is pending. Since the Washington Post/Pro Publica articles came out, his case has been taken up prominent figures, including members of Congress, law professors, and civil rights advocates. Many of those supporters have called for a broader investigation into the pardon process.

The presidential power to pardon or commute as been gradually atrophying even as prisoner numbers climbed in recent years. President Bill Clinton pardoned nearly 400 people, while President George W. Bush pardoned only 189. So far, President Obama has pardoned only 22 people and commuted the sentence of just one.

Washington, DC
United States

Obama Pardons Three for Marijuana, Frees Crack Prisoner

The White House announced Monday that President Barack Obama had granted pardons to five people, including three whose offenses were marijuana-related, and commuted the sentence of a woman doing more than 20 years on a crack cocaine charge. As is the case with every administration, the White House provided no explanation for its choice of pardons.

The only recipient of presidential largesse who was still actually serving a prison sentence is Eugenia Marie Jennings of Alton, Illinois. She was almost halfway through a 22-year sentence for crack cocaine distribution when President Obama commuted her sentence. She will now be released in one month, but will still have to serve eight years of probation. Jennings's brother, Cedric Parker, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 2009.

This is the third set of clemencies issued by President Obama. Each of the earlier sets also included at least one drug offender. So far, President Obama has pardoned or commuted the sentences of 23 people.

The number of clemencies issued by President Obama is small so far compared to other presidents. George W. Bush pardoned or commuted the sentences of 200 people, while Bill Clinton pardoned 459. Other presidents have also pardoned hundreds of people during the course of their terms.

The marijuana offenders pardoned Monday were:

  • Lesly Claywood Berry Jr. of Loreto, Kentucky, pardoned for 1988 convictions in federal court in Minnesota for conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute marijuana. He had done three years in federal prison.
  • A second Kentucky man, Ricky Dale Collett of Annville, pardoned for a 2002 conviction in federal court in his home state for aiding and abetting a 61 plant marijuana grow. He had done a year's probation and two months home detention.
  • Dennis George Bulin of Wesley Chapel, Florida, pardoned for a 1987 conviction in federal court in Alabama for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 1,000 pounds of marijuana. He had done five years probation and paid a $20,000 fine.

The other two pardons were of an Illinois man convicted of stolen property offenses and a Tennessee man with a federal gambling conviction.

Washington, DC
United States

Pardons: The Power Nobody Wants

 

http://www.newschool.edu/eventDetail.aspx?id=70413  

*******************************************************

Pardons: The Power Nobody Wants

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

 

The New School

John L. Tishman Auditorium

66 West 12 Street

New York City

 

The Hon. Dennis Jacobs, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and a distinguished panel of experts explore the history and real-world application of the power of pardon at the state and federal level. Following opening remarks by New School president David E. Van Zandt, Judge Jacobs explains the history of the power, its role in correcting injustice in the application of criminal law, and the way the decline in its use reflects a missed opportunity, lack of imagination, and failure of courage. 

Our panel then examines the critical historical, legal, economic, and ethical issues surrounding the pardon power and the implications of its greater or lesser use. Panelists include:  

 

  • Moderator: Senator Bob Kerrey, President Emeritus, The New School. 
  • Hon. Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 
  • Hon. Robert L. Ehrlich, Senior Counsel, King & Spalding; former Governor of Maryland; former Congressman (R-MD), U.S. House of Representatives. 

·       JulieStewart, Attorney; President and Founder, Families Against Mandatory Minimums. 

  • Margaret Colgate Love, Attorney; former Pardon Attorney, Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice. 
  • Anthony Papa, Manager, Media Relations, Drug Policy Alliance; clemency recipient following imprisonment for first-time, nonviolent drug offense under New York’s draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Date: 
Wed, 10/26/2011 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Location: 
66 W. 12th St.
New York, NY
United States

Obama Pardon/Clemency Record Even Stingier Than Bush's, Washington Post Notes

Turkey pardons aren't enough, Mr. President.
The Washington Post has criticized President Obama for failing to use the presidential pardon and clemency powers during his first few years in office. Opines the Post:

Mr. Obama has thus far extended mercy to a mere 17 individuals, most of whom committed relatively minor offenses decades ago. Take, for example, the case of Ronald Lee Foster, who was an 18-year-old Marine in 1963 when he was sentenced to one year of probation and a $20 fine for mutilating US coins. It did not take an abundance of courage for Mr. Obama to pardon Mr. Foster. At this pace, Mr. Obama is likely to fall below the 189 pardons issued by George W. Bush -- the modern president with the worst track record in this area.

The Post editorial was prompted by an Office of the Inspector General audit that detailed a troublingly clogged up pardon process.

Who are some good candidates for clemency or pardon?

Mr. Obama need only look to the thousands of Americans -- many of them young, African American men -- incarcerated for inexcusably lengthy periods because of draconian crack cocaine laws. Mr. Obama joined with a bipartisan coalition in Congress to reduce the penalties and make them more proportional to the crime. Some inmates may benefit from a U.S. Sentencing Commission decision this summer that allows judges to resentence inmates under new guidelines reflecting the penalty reductions. But many nonviolent offenders worthy of relief will be out of luck because they were sentenced to mandatory minimum prison terms. This is exactly the kind of situation that cries out for presidential intervention.

The medical marijuana "left-behinds" are another good set of candidates, as I mentioned in a post earlier today.

To be fair, the pardon has suffered some blows to its reputation in recent times -- furors over the Mark Rich pardon by President Clinton and the Scooter Libby clemency by President Bush have not helped things. But Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines are only two examples of what good can be done, for individuals and society, when clemency is granted to deserving parties. Also to be fair, Obama did support the recent reforms made to crack sentencing, as the Post editorial notes. But it's too little, and too late for an increasing number of small-time offenders "incarcerated for inexcusably lengthy periods of time," as the Post put it, so long as inaction on criminal justice reform remains the norm by this Congress and administration.

Times is wasting -- lives are being unjustly wasted -- the president should take a step and a stand for justice. The annual 

Thursday Press Teleconference: Clinton Commutation Beneficiaries Call on President Obama to Expedite Clemency for Crack Cocaine Prisoners (Press Advisory)

For Immediate Release: December 15, 2010                      

Contact: Nkechi Taifa (202-641-6605) or Tony Newman (646-335-5384)

THURSDAY PRESS TELECONFERENCE: Clinton Commutation Beneficiaries Call on President Obama to Expedite Clemency for Crack Cocaine Prisoners

Recent federal legislation reducing the 100-to-1 cocaine sentencing disparity will not benefitthose in prison

Advocates will fast and pray for justice on December 22, 10-year anniversary of Clinton crack cocaine commutations

WASHINGTON, DC—Advocates for presidential clemency will join together for a press teleconference on Thursday, December 16 to urge President Obama to expedite clemency for people serving excessive terms under the now-reformed federal crack cocaine sentencing laws. Participants will be commemorating the 10-year anniversary of President Clinton’s commutation of Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines, two women sent to federal prison for 24 and 19 years, respectively, for playing peripheral roles in their boyfriends’ drug operations.  Joining the women on the press teleconference will be members of the Crack the Disparity Coalition, a broad coalition of civil rights, faith-based, drug policy, criminal justice reform advocacy groups, and formerly incarcerated people.

Recent changes under the Fair Sentencing Act, signed in August, reduce the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1 but do not provide relief to thousands of individuals who are already serving time for crack cocaine offenses. Prior to the law’s passage, an individual in possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine (roughly the amount of sugar in a couple of sugar packets) would be sentenced to a federal 5-year mandatory minimum sentence. It took 500 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same 5-year sentence.

The campaign has set up a site (http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/pres_obama-useyourpowertocorrectinjustice/) and a Facebook page, “Holiday Fast and Prayer for Justice,”(http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=173873379301719) where others can commit to fasting and prayer and sign a petition to President Obama on behalf of those behind bars under the old crack cocaine sentencing structure.

                        WHAT:           Press Teleconference to urge President Obama to expedite clemency

WHEN:           Thursday, December 16, 1 p.m. ET

CALL IN #:    1-800-311-9402   Passcode: Fairness

WHO:

Kemba Smith Pradia was sentenced as a first time non-violent drug offender to 24.5 years in federal prison even though the prosecutor handling her case said she never handled, used or sold any of the drugs involved. Currently, she is a national public speaker, advocate and founder of the Kemba Smith Foundation.

Dorothy Gaines is a single mother of three who was convicted of minor involvement in her boyfriends’ small-scale crack distribution and served 6 years of a 19 ½ year sentence before she was granted commutation. She currently works with at-risk youth in Mobile, AL.

Hilary O. Shelton is the Director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy. He played an integral role in the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and other policy measures affecting equality in our society. 

Margaret Love was the former U.S. Pardon attorney under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She now represents people applying for executive clemency and advocates for sentencing and corrections reform.

Moderated by: Nkechi Taifa, the Senior Policy Analyst for the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Policy Center, focusing on issues of criminal justice and racial equality.  She also convenes the Crack the Disparity Working Group of the Justice Roundtable, and has worked for over 17 years to eliminate the crack/powder disparity.

WikiLeaks: Karzai Pardoned Politically Connected Drug Dealers

Location: 
Afghanistan
A confidential diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks says Afghan President Hamid Karzai has freed dangerous detainees and pardoned suspected drug dealers because they had connections to powerful figures.
Publication/Source: 
The Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hvyPv5TcERTnPkrDhfbCDMujnmDA?docId=a75bf55ab5ac4ce9b033f1019dfe98cc

Townhall Meeting to Support Clarence Aaron

Townhall Meeting to Support Clarence Aaron, Serving 3 Life Sentences for a First-Time, Non-Violent Drug Law Violation Featuring Bob ‘Cowboy’ Clark, Clarence’s attorney, along with community activist Sherman “Big Sho” Tate and poet HuggyBear DaPoet Loft, host of the weekly poetry series Get Yo’ Mind Right”. Erica Perkins, campaign manager for Kevin Powell’s 2008 U.S. Congressional run, will be the moderator. A video appeal will be produced from this event, asking President Obama to grant clemency to Clarence, who has already served 17 years in prison. For more info, contact Erica Perkins 251.545.2168 or [email protected]. Read more about Clarence Aaron at http://www.november.org/thewall/cases/aaron-c/aaron-c.html.
Date: 
Thu, 11/19/2009 - 6:00pm
Location: 
700 Donald Street
Mobile, AL 36617
United States

A Few Pardons Today -- Meanwhile the Pardon Attorney's Web Site Hasn't Been Updated Since the Clinton Administration

In addition to the good news about the crack sentencing reductions being retroactive, another piece of modest good news is that Pres. Bush granted some clemencies, including a few drug offenders. Via the Associated Press and CNN:
  • Jackie Ray Clayborn, of Deer, Arkansas, sentenced in 1993 to five months in prison, two years of supervised release and $3,000 in fines on marijuana charges.
  • John Fornaby, of Boynton Beach, Florida, convicted in 1991 of conspiring to distribute cocaine. He served three years in prison.
  • Bush cut short the 1992 prison sentence of crack cocaine dealer Michael Dwayne Short of Hyattsville, Maryland, who will be released on February 8 after serving 15 years of his 19-year sentence.
Let's include this one too, just to keep things in the holiday spirit (even though we don't oppose having reasonable regulations on legalized substances):
  • William James Norman of Tallahassee, Florida, convicted in 1970 for possessing and running an unregistered distillery that did not carry the proper signage and illegally produced alcoholic drinks made from mash. He was sentenced to three years probation.
Clemencies are a good thing, so I feel bad about using a negative-sounding headline. But it's important, because these few additional actions still leave George W. Bush far behind other presidential administrations in use of the pardon powers, even behind the pardon-parsimonious George Herbert Walker Bush. Interestingly -- and perhaps not coincidentally -- the US Pardon Attorney's office has not updated the sections of their web site listing clemency recipients and statistics since the end of the Clinton administration. They don't even include George W. Bush in the list of presidents. (I've saved copies of those two pages to prove it, in case they finally get around to updating those pages.) More importantly, we've heard from list members whose family members have clemency petitions in that not only have their loved ones not been released, they haven't even heard back from the office with any decision, not even a "no." If I remember correctly, FAMM has charged that the backlog in the office is literally in the thousands. Come on George, I've said it before, and I'm saying it again -- WE WANT PARDONS!!!!
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Pardon Whom?

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Nation (NY)
URL: 
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070730/pollitt

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