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

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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