Obama Clemency Problem Sparks Calls for Investigation of Justice Department Pardon Attorney

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Pressure is building on the Obama administration to investigate misconduct in the Justice Department's clemency/pardon process.

Back in September, the Voice profiled several elderly prisoners, including 93-year-old Drayton Curry (at right), whose clemency requests for early release from federal prison were being basically ignored by the Office of the Pardon Attorney. The article included allegations that the pardon office was not performing a full review before recommending that Obama deny the requests.

"Some former Justice Department officials charge that a serious review of these petitions doesn't even really take place anymore," the Voice article reported. "In essence, these critics say, justice has dismantled the administrative functions of the pardon office, which is supposed to investigate the petitions filed by prisoners. As a result, all those carefully prepared requests for clemency aren't getting the kind of review they deserve."

More recently, Dafna Linzer of Propublica reported in a series of articles in the Washington Post a racial disparity in the approval of such requests, and reported that Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers misrepresented facts in the case of inmate Clarence Aaron which led Obama to reject his request. (Aaron even had the support of his sentencing judge and his prosecutor.)

The pardon office has recommended denial in 7,000 pardon requests over four years. During the Bush administration, just 6 of 8,600 commutation requests were approved.

Last month, the senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, called on Obama to investigate the pardon process.

Now, 16 formerly federal prisoners who had their sentences commuted have sent a letter to Obama urging an investigation of Rodgers' office, and asking him to grant more sentence commutations. (14 of the 16 were granted commutations by President Clinton.)

"We know that the pardon attorney's office failed President Bush and is now failing President Obama. We won't know the extent of the damage, however, until the Congress or the Justice Department fully investigates the OPA," FAMM President Julie Stewart says.

"Getting clemency shouldn't be like winning the lottery," says Molly Gill, FAMM's director of special projects. "Every prisoner deserves a fair review from this administration's pardon attorney - and the president and the taxpayers who pay his salary deserve it, too.  But it appears likely that no one will get a fair shake from the pardon attorney's office unless the President or the Department reforms it."

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What is to happen to all the pardons that sat for over a year or two  and were finally rejected? Most of these were  reviewed as the Pardon Attorney's and staff were busy golfing. Doesn't an overhaul in manpower need to put in place? There are many people who need jobs and will actually do the work required.  A staff that actually reviews the petitions is in order. All of the petitions that have been denied under Mr. Rogers need to be reviewed as the only thing that Mr. Rogers managed to do is create piles of inmates very hard work and when enough dust had settled on the pile they were systematically denied with no explanation. How can an explanation be provided when something was never read?

Brendan A. MacWade
Brendan A. MacWade

So not one pardon approval out of 7,000+ requests? Why can't the DOJ simply temporarily close the office for the next administration, then? I know, an agency with over 100,000 employees needs something to do. But clearly the avoidance of pardoning one person is the result of this administration's unwillingness to deal with the Right Wing wingnut response that would follow. Who cares what Glenn Beck, Rush, and the bloggers will say about Obama releasing old black felons? But that's the problem. There has been zero backbone from this administration. That's why I'm throwing away my vote. Running away from online bullies and has been talk show guys doesn't earn my vote.

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