A nationwide campaign by the ACLU that urges state governors to broaden their executive clemency powers to release 50,000 prisoners over the next five years is now underway, according to the Coalition of Prisoners’ Rights newsletter.
“‘Clemency’ can come in the form of a pardon, which legally undoes a criminal conviction, or in the form of a commutation, which reduces or ends someone’s incarceration. Chief executives, that is governors, have the power to ‘correct systemic injustices and end imprisonment that is considered unjust or no longer necessary,’” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated.
The goal is to have state governors nationwide expand their existing clemency powers to diminish decades of punitive criminal justice
policies that targeted Black and Brown people.
To accomplish this, the ACLU suggests governors focus reform efforts on four specific areas designed to promote categorical commutations for large groups of individuals who meet these criteria: 1. If they were convicted under current laws, they would receive a shorter sentence than the one they got. 2. If they were convicted of drug distribution and possession offenses, regardless of the underlying substance. 3. They were incarcerated for technical probation or parole violations. 4. Older incarcerated people.
Popular support for these targeted categories ranges from 66 percent (for those who have drug convictions) to 84 percent (for those who would have received current shorter sentences) among the general population. Factoring in the fact that there are 1.3 million people incarcerated in state prisons, a more forward approach toward correcting prior injustices and liberating people who have spent years, even decades, behind bars, is a
critical step to take in healing racial disparities, the article noted.
State prisons currently house 165,000 people over the age of 55 (increasing
yearly), 191,000 for drug-related crimes, and 280,000 for probation and parole violations. Acknowledging and moving toward the release of 50,000 incarcerated people in the next five years, through governors’ grants of clemency, will redeem the rights of these prisoners and create their only chance for a timely release and a pathway to healing, notes the ACLU.
States collectively spend $43 billion a year on a prison system where Blacks and Latinos make up 57 percent of the prison population but are only 29 percent of the US population.
“Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped by extraordinarily long and punitive sentences that were never warranted in the first place,” the ACLU stated.