RACE, PARDONS, & THE PRESIDENT: REVIEWING A COMMUTATION REQUEST
Barack Obama has not, thus far, been big on handing out presidential pardons. In fact, since 2008, 7000 requests for presidential commutations of sentences have been denied, a whopping 22 times the refusal rate for Ronald Reagan during his entire eight years in office.
Recently, however, the Obama administration has snapped awake on the matter and ordered the Justice Department to launch its its first ever comprehensive analysis of the way in which recommendations for White House pardons are processed.
In so doing, the administration is also looking into the commutation request by one particular Alabama inmate, Clarence Aaron, a man whose case many believe is a sad illustration of the biased manner in which recipients of POTUS pardons and commutations are selected.
A story by ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer dealing with Aaron’s case and with the the troubling workings of the pardons office, is the latest in an excellent series co-published with the Washington Post, in which Linzer has been investigating the matter of presidential pardons in general, focusing attention on an arena that rarely draws notice, except when some wealthy or well-connected felon gets pardoned (or his sentence commuted) by an exiting president or governor.
Here’s a clip from this week’s story:
The Office of Pardon Attorney has been at the center of growing controversy since December, when stories published by ProPublica and The Washington Post revealed a racial disparity in pardons. White applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities. African Americans had the least chance of success.
A subsequent story published in May recounted the saga of Clarence Aaron, a first-time offender sentenced in 1993 to three life terms in prison for his role in a drug conspiracy. In 2008, the pardon attorney recommended that President George W. Bush deny Aaron’s request for a commutation even though his application had the support of the prosecutor’s office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him. The pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, did not fully disclose that information to the White House.
The handling of Aaron’s case prompted widespread criticism that the pardon office– which has rejected applications at an unprecedented pace under Rodgers–is not giving clemency requests proper consideration.
Aaron filed a new commutation request in 2010, which is pending. In the past two months, his cause has been taken up by members of Congress, law professors and prominent civil rights advocates, many of whom have called for a broader investigation of the pardon process.
CA AG KAMALA HARRIS SAYS UNDOCUMENTED LAW STUDENT SHOULD BE ADMITTED TO THE BAR
State Attorney General Kamala Harris has just waded into the undocumented law student legal controversy. Howard Mintz writing for the San Jose Mercury News has the story on this latest chapter in what has been an ongoing and interesting tale that will set precedent if it is decided in 35 year old Sergio Garcia’s favor.
Garcia’s dilemma is yet another example of the problems faced by California residents who were brought to the U.S. as very young children and thus are Americans in all ways—except for the one way that counts, legally speaking.
Here’s a clip from Mintz’ story:
California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday sided with an undocumented immigrant’s bid to become a lawyer, telling the state Supreme Court that the law school graduate has a legal right to get his license to practice.
In a brief filed in the Supreme Court, Harris backed the cause of Sergio Garcia, a 35-year-old Chico area man whose immigration status has clouded his right to be licensed by the State Bar. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and it invited Harris’ legal views on whether state or federal laws forbid licensing an undocumented immigrant.
“No law or policy prevents this court from admitting Garcia to the State Bar,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “In fact, admitting Garcia to the Bar would be consistent with state and federal policy that encourages immigrants, both documented and undocumented, to contribute to society.”
The State Bar Board of Examiners also has recommended that the Supreme Court allow Garcia to be licensed.
Garcia originally came to the United States as a toddler and returned to Mexico at around eight-years old, returning here for good when he was 17 to finish high school. He has been waiting 18 years for his visa; his father and most of his siblings are already U.S. citizens.
PRISON FELLOWSHIP MINISTRIES GETS BIG GRANT TO PROVIDE SEMINARY TRAINING TO INMATES
As California’s prison rehabilitation programs continue to vanish due to budget cuts , the late Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries announced that it has made a deal with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to launch faith-based training programs in two California prisons, made possible by a big new grant from a wealthy local rancher.
The Californian has the story. Here’s a clip:
Monterey County’s two state prisons are among those starting a faith-based program aimed at keeping parolees from returning once they are freed.
Prison Fellowship Ministries announced last month that businessman and rancher Wayne Hughes and his wife, Wendy, have donated more than $2 million to its Urban Ministry Institute Christian outreach program.
“Deep budget cuts have pretty much eliminated programs to rehabilitate our state’s prisoners,” Wayne Hughes said. “Wendy and I are stepping up to the plate to expand a program that will make a huge difference in our prisons and, ultimately, in our cities.”
According to Prison Fellowship Ministries, the program — a partnership with World Impact, a Christian missions organization, is in its planning stages at the Correctional Training Facility and Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. However, the program is set to begin locally this fall.
The program — under agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation — is spread out into 16 nine-week courses run by trained Prison Fellowship volunteers. Upon completion, participants receive a Certificate in Christian Leadership Studies.
Prison Fellowship said its goal is to add 32 more classes across the state prisons. Thus far, 265 inmates have enrolled in the program.
NOTE: Unbiased studies on how effective faith-based programs of this nature are in reducing recidivism have produced mixed outcomes, particularly if dropouts from the programs are counted when figuring success rates. But among self-selecting graduates of the programs they have proved to be valuable and since they are mostly cost-neutral for the prisons, they are, for many, a very welcome addition.