ACLU Report Finds Significant Strides in Clemency Trends in 2022

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By Perla Brito

NEW YORK, NY – The American Civil Liberties Union’s “Redemption Campaign” released a nationwide report this week, noting the U.S. saw significant progress in the use of clemency as a tool to, said the ACLU, “correct injustices, offer second chances, and reverse the country’s overreliance on mass incarceration” in 2022.

The ACLU said the “Redemption Campaign” is “a nationwide effort to liberate 50,000 people from federal and state prisons by executing campaigns that push elected officials… to use their existing clemency powers in new and transformational ways, and forcefully confront mass incarceration and racial injustice.”

The campaign focuses on releasing people “unjustifiably imprisoned,” said the ACLU in its “Annual Report of Trends in Clemency 2022,” which takes a look at the progress made by executives and advocates to advance the use of clemency.

The report noted 68 percent of voters in the U.S. support clemency, including Democrats, Independents and Republicans, and 61 percent of voters who supported pardons during the election year said they would be more likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports a plan for clemency.

The report found former Oregon Gov. Kate Brown pardoned more than 47,000 marijuana possession offenses which supported the increase of pardons at state level. Pardons went from 2,744 to 48,086, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf implemented a marijuana conviction program and afforded commutations for drug-related offenses.

The report added governors Mike Parsons and Asa Hutchinson also afforded pardons and commuted individual cases.

There were fewer commutations at state level in 2022 than in 2021, the report found, and only 20 of the 40 states with reported clemency data afforded pardons in 2022.

Tara Stutsman, campaign strategist for the ACLU and main author of the report, said, “Governors who embraced the power of redemption and implemented notable pardons and commutations made impactful decisions that delivered obvious results in 2022.”

Stutsman added, “Despite the important strides, clemency remains an under-utilized tool. If our leaders used their clemency powers and provided relief for the harmful policy decisions that have plagued our criminal legal system, we could begin to alleviate systemic injustice and correct harsh, outdated sentencing.”

The report delineates three goals for 2023 to advance progress in using clemency.

One of the goals is to “encourage governors to exercise their executive power to pardon those who have fallen through the cracks of recent sentencing reforms.”

The next goal is to “remind officials that the use of widespread clemency for entire groups of people who meet certain criteria as well as routine application-based clemency is good governance, corrects injustice, and is popular with voters.”

The third goal is to “increase administrative support for implementing federal clemency programs” and “encourage more leadership in clemency from President Biden.”

Cynthia Roseberry, acting director of the ACLU’s Justice Division, said, “By embracing the power of clemency, our elected leaders can start building a brighter future for all people and redeem our nation from harmful criminal punishment policies that have separated families, fueled the mass incarceration crisis, and stood in the way of justice and safety.”

Roseberry added, “No person is disposable. Second chances are possible both for the recipient of clemency and the grantor of clemency.”

In 2023, the ACLU added, 1.9 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. One in five of them are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

About The Author

Perla Brito is a 4th year undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach. She is majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is set to graduate by Spring 2023. After graduation she plans on working at a local police department in the criminal investigations division. She intends to pursue a Masters in Psychology with a focus in Neuroscience in hopes of working on neurocriminology research one day.

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