Praying for Christmas Clemency 

Praying for Christmas Clemency 
Posted by FoM on December 22, 2000 at 09:05:55 PT
By Alan W. Bock 
Source: WorldNetDaily
President Clinton, in the spirit of the season, is said to be considering using his power to grant clemency to various federal prisoners and to people convicted of federal crimes. The most visible people on the potential clemency list include Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement activist serving time after being convicted for the murder of two FBI agents on the Oglala Sioux reservation in North Dakota in 1975 and financier Michael Milken, who has completed his prison time but would like clemency to clear up his legacy. 
A coalition of more than 600 prominent religious leaders has appealed to the president to add a much larger group of mostly anonymous prisoners to the list. The Coalition for Jubilee Clemency hopes that President Clinton will commute the sentences of low-level drug offenders with no violent crimes on their records who have already served at least five years in federal prison. This is a great idea. It would be a marvelous Christmas gift for these prisoners, for their children and for the nation as a whole. And it just might be the most constructive thing President Clinton could do to add a bit of luster to his own legacy. In the Christian and Jewish faiths the tradition of a Jubilee every 50 years, in which debts are forgiven and prisoners liberated is a powerful and constructive affirmation of compassion. The words of Leviticus 25:10 "you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof" are inscribed on America's Liberty Bell. The year 2000 is a Jubilee Year for Christians. Pope John Paul II has emphasized the importance of this year as an opportunity for people of faith and good will to participate in the healing process (for all concerned) of forgiveness and clemency. As the pope has written, "The Holy Year must be used as a chance to right injustices committed, to mitigate excesses, and to recover what might otherwise be lost. I turn with confidence to state authorities to ask for a gesture of clemency towards all those in prison." We are not talking about guilt or innocence here, or whether certain laws are right or wrong, but whether some of the punishments imposed, mostly in good faith, have been appropriate. Congress passed mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the 1980s that imposed long sentences for certain drug offenses. In practice they have mostly been used against low-level drug users and couriers rather than the "kingpins" they were intended to punish. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, hardly a flaming liberal, has said mandatory minimums are "a good example of the law of unintended consequences," that have "led to an inordinate increase in the federal prison population." In 1997, 86 percent of federal judges in a survey done for the Federal Judicial Center said they opposed mandatory minimums. In his recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, President Clinton himself acknowledged the problem, saying that "We really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment. There are tons of people in prison who are nonviolent drug offenders . I think the sentences in many cases are far too long for nonviolent offenders, and the facilities are not structured to maximize success when the people get out." President Clinton has the power to convert these sensible words into deeds, which would be something of a switch since the federal prison population has doubled under his administration, from about 73,000 in January 1993 to 146,000 this November. As the religious leaders put it in a Nov. 20 letter to the president: "The constitutional power to grant reprieves and pardons is a unique and powerful tool to express the public's merciful spirit. As you know, the public has a strong desire for justice and forgiveness. Many of these offenders are parents. Their children are being hurt by these separations. Their children and their communities need them home. Clemency is the last hope for justice for many of these offenders, as many have exhausted all appeal options available to them." In 1994 the Department of Justice did a study that counted 16,316 "low-level drug law offenders" who also were "without prior violence in their records." Eric Sterling, a former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee who is president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, estimates that currently about 24,000 of the 146,000 federal prisoners fit these criteria -- low-level drug offenders with no prior record of violence. Hardly anybody expects or even hopes that President Clinton will release many thousands of prisoners this Christmas, although that might be the best affirmation of the ideal of justice with mercy. Chad Thevenot, coordinator of the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency, has suggested that the president ask each of the more than 600 federal judges to "name at least one defendant whom he or she was required by mandatory sentencing laws to sentence to a term he or she thought was unjust -- the kinds of cases that the judges lost sleep over." Whether such a gesture would lead to rethinking mandatory sentencing laws or drug possession laws is probably unknowable. But it would be a magnanimous display of compassion and mercy at a time of the year when people of most major religions have mercy and miracles on their minds. Perhaps that is why the campaign has been endorsed by so many clergy, ranging from Episcopal Bishop Frederick Borsch of Los Angeles to Charles A. Kroloff, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis to Richard Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference to the retired president of the United Church of Christ to the coordinator of the Muslim Peace Fellowship. As one might expect, Unitarians have signed on. So have Methodists, Baptists, Friends and AME ministers. Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, of the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., said to be President Clinton's home church these days, is one of the signers. If President Clinton fails to act it will not be the first time he has disappointed drug-law reformers and prison reformers. Many were expecting big changes in drug policy when he came into office eight years ago. What they got was harsher enforcement and an actual general in charge of the "drug war." But at this point President Clinton is a lame duck with no particular political capital at stake. His comments suggest that he knows the drug war has gone too far, has harmed too many innocent people. If he grants even a few token clemencies to prisoners of the drug war he might sleep better at night, assuming he has something close to a normal conscience. And America will be a better country for it. Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Alan BockPublished: December 22, 2000Copyright: 2000,, Inc.Address: PO Box 409, Cave Junction, OR 97523-0409Fax: (541) 597-1700Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comWebsite: Articles & Web Sites:November Coalition: Justice Policy Foundation: Against Mandatory Minimums: for Jubilee Clemency: Examines Clemency Cases: The Season To Free Nonviolent Drug: President, Show Mercy and Good Sense: Ask To Commute Drug Sentences: 
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