The ultimate safety valve for miscarriages of justice in the United States, be they wrongful convictions or unjust sentences, is the clemency process. But as politicians escalated the ”war on crime” over the past 40 years, the number of convicts receiving pardons or commuted sentences at both the state and federal level has plummeted.
President Barack Obama’s promise to change the skyrocketing incarceration rate during his 2008 campaign never materialized in his first term. While the recent promise of Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, to reduce the federal incarceration rate by not pursuing as many stiff sentences offers hope, Radley Balko notes here that Obama could easily help correct injustices by issuing commutations, but his record is depressingly dismal.
Balko quotes a ProPublica report that while an applicant for commutation’s chance for success under Presidents Reagan and Clinton was 1 in 100, it fell to 1 in 1,000 under President George W. Bush and is only slightly less than 1 in 5,000 under Obama. It may be time for Obama to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.