“Yesterday the Federal justice department announced a plan to canvass the entire federal prison … to find inmates who committed low-level crimes and could be released early.”

So said today’s Boston Globe; the announcement wa also liberally tweeted. We are glad to hear of this. We fully approve.

In 1980 the entire Federal prison population totaled 24,363. Today 216,285 people live in federal prisons. Over 2,2000,000 people live imprisoned in America’s federal, state, and local prisons. It’s by far the highest number of any first-world nation.

People live their whole adult lives in American prisons. Prisoners aged 65, 75, even 85 and 90 years old abound in America’s jails. Hardly any other civilized nation keeps people locked up in old age. we do. Why ?

Aged prisoners are expensive to keep; much of their time is spent in hospitals or being medicated (when they’re not simply left untreated, maybe to die).

Finally, after thirty years of wielding the lock and key, the shackles and cells, our federal government — and a few states — are saying ‘enough.” Prison henceforth is to be strictly for the violent felon. That’s how it should be.

The pardon power and the authority to grant clemency have been central to governance since Roman imperial days and before. They are venerable, not novel. Presidents used to use their clemency and pardon powers liberally ; let punishment of crime use the stick and. in some cases, the carrot. But of late, through rear of what happens when a prisoner granted clemency commits a horrendous new crime — one thinks of Willie Horton in 1987, a murderer who, while on furlough, killed again, heinously — politicians have become unwilling to pardon or be clement. President Obama, accused by opponents of being a radical leftist (which he most definitely is not), has pardoned almost no one. The same is true of our own state’s Governor Deval Patrick.

This was, and is, a huge mistake.

Sentencing itself has been revised in recent years. Gone are the draconian penalties attached to drug dealing; drug use has become almost accepted. States and the federal government have seen that drug crimes are more a matter of taste than criminal minds. In this era of stringent government budgeting, the cost of trying and imprisoning drug offenders looks quite unacceptable.

The pardon and clemency now being planned thus arises from financial rather than moral considerations. This we dislike. Clemency and pardon are moral decisions, a hand of friendship, a restorative by which offender and community are re-united. The financial motive at work today does matter; government has an obligation to spend wisely. but the cost savings in clemency and pardon fall far short of the moral benefit of granting them.

we hope that when the federal pardons and clemency now being assessed are finally on the president’s desk gor signing, he will add to his many signings many words of restoration, re-union, and rightfulness.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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