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ACLU in NYT: Commutations are Good, Addressing Systemic Injustice is Better

Will Matthews,
ACLU of Northern California
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December 19, 2011

Borrowed from the British monarchy and codified in the United States Constitution after lively debate at the Philadelphia Convention, the power of pardon and commutation was bestowed upon American presidents because of the recognition that injustices can and do occur in our criminal justice system.

An example of those injustices is the unfair and racially biased 18-to-one crack-cocaine sentencing disparity, which was reduced last year from 100-to-one after Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act. The disparity has contributed to hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders, a disproportionate number of whom, like Hamedah Hasan, are people of color, serving indefensibly long sentences behind bars.

As Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, writes for today’s New York Times Room for Debate , “Presidents should surely exercise the power of commutation more often than they currently do.” But more important than presidents increasing their use of commutation, Murphy writes, is their willingness to “address the deep systemic problems in our criminal justice system.”

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