ACLU Report Finds Significant Strides in Clemency Trends in 2022

April 11, 2023 10:00 am

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NEW YORK — According to a nationwide report released by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Redemption Campaign, the United States saw significant strides in the use of clemency as a tool to correct failed policies and offer second chances to currently and formerly incarcerated people throughout 2022.

The “Annual Report of Trends in Clemency 2022” evaluates the progress made in 2022 by executives and advocates to advance the use of clemency as a tool for good governance, justice, and redemption while also identifying ways in which governors and the president can do more to capitalize on the full powers of clemency. The report also highlights how impactful state and federal clemency actions can correct injustice, offer second chances, and reverse the country’s overreliance on mass incarceration.

Key highlights from the report include:

  • A majority (68 percent) of voters in the United States support clemency, including majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.
  • Voters supported pardons during the election year, with 61 percent saying they would be more likely to vote for a gubernatorial candidate who supports a plan for clemency.
  • At the state level, pardons went from approximately 2,744 to 48,086, due largely to former Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s categorical marijuana possession pardons, which benefited more than 47,000 people.
  • Governors from both parties afforded pardons and commutations for drug-related offenses, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who implemented a marijuana conviction pardon program, and Governors Mike Parsons (R-Mo.) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) who granted individual pardons and commutations.
  • 2022 saw fewer commutations than 2021 at the state level, dropping from 214 known commutations down to 114 in 2022.
  • Only 20 of 40 states with reported clemency data performed any pardons in 2022.

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

To drive progress in utilizing clemency, the report outlines three goals for 2023, including:

  • Encourage governors to exercise their executive power to pardon those who have fallen through the cracks of recent sentencing reforms, such as repealed mandatory minimum sentences, legalized marijuana use, and overturned “three strikes” laws.
  • 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 injustices in our carceral system, and is popular with voters.
  • Increase administrative support for implementing federal clemency programs, and encourage more leadership in clemency from President Biden, such as the use of his clemency authorities to reduce the sentences of people impacted by the long-standing and racially-biased crack and powder cocaine disparity.

“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,” said Cynthia Roseberry, acting director of the ACLU's Justice Division. “No person is disposable. Second chances are possible both for the recipient of clemency and the grantor of clemency.”

In 2023, 1.9 million people are incarcerated in the United States, one in five for drug-related offenses. The Redemption Campaign is a nationwide effort to liberate 50,000 from federal and state prisons by advocating for executives to use their existing clemency powers in new and transformational ways, and forcefully confront mass incarceration and racial injustice.

Read the full report here:

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