Journalism in the Public Interest

Barbour Says Pardoned Murderers Deserved ‘a Second Chance’

Former governor says pardons should be based on “Christian belief in repentance, forgiveness and redemption.”

In an interview and opinion piece in the Washington Post, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said this week he was confident that a group of convicted killers, rapists and other criminals had been successfully rehabilitated in state prison and did not pose a risk to the public.

"They deserve a second chance, and I'm the only one who can give it to them," Barbour said on CBS This Morning.

Barbour ordered the releases of 26 prisoners, including men who had been convicted of murder, just as he was leaving office. Barbour had come to know some of the men through a state program that allows select prisoners to work odd jobs around the governor's mansion.

Most of the men who worked at the mansion Barbour wrote, "have been murderers, convicted of crimes of passion. Experts agree that these inmates are the least likely to commit another crime and the most likely to serve out their sentences well."

"My state spends about $350 million on corrections every year, much of it for rehabilitation, and a lot of guys, a lot of guys aren't ever going to be rehabilitated," Barbour said in the Wednesday interview with CBS's This Morning. But those he released "have been. They've redeemed themselves."

Barbour was criticized early in his governorship for a lack of pardons and then faced new criticism when he began pardoning murderers who worked at the mansion. In the Post, Barbour wrote that his predecessors had also pardoned such convicts. By the time he left office, Barbour had issued more than 200 acts of clemency, more than any recent predecessor.

But this last round of pardons raised the ire of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who claimed Barbour may have violated the state's constitution. A state judge, responding to the attorney general's concerns, temporarily blocked the release of 21 of the prisoners. Hood is now seeking to invalidate the pardons of at least 10 people Barbour ordered released.

Not all governors have the power to pardon. But at the federal level, the power belongs to the president alone. ProPublica's recent examination of pardon decisions by President George W. Bush found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive pardons than minorities. Other factors, such as financial stability, employment, marital status and the support of a member of Congress, also increased the likelihood of receiving a pardon.

The president's power to pardon is enshrined in the Constitution. It is an act of forgiveness for a federal crime. It does not wipe away the conviction, but it does restore a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and serve on federal juries.

Presidents are rarely faced with the possibility of pardoning violent criminals. Most applicants convicted of federal crimes served sentences for financial or drug-related offenses. Hundreds of ex-felons apply for presidential pardons each year but few are granted. President Obama has pardoned 22 people, none of whom committed violent crimes. Obama has also denied hundreds of requests.

But Barbour wrote that the murderers who were pardoned "have paid the price for their crimes, having served an average of 20 years' imprisonment." The power to pardon in Mississippi, he wrote, "is based on our Christian belief in repentance, forgiveness and redemption -- a second chance for those who are rehabilitated and who redeem themselves."

Stephen Hines

Jan. 19, 2012, 7:59 p.m.

So how can the governor say that these individuals are rehabilitated while others (with whom he has had no contact) are not?

The other obvious question is whether these prisoners were effectively slave labour while working for the governor.

“They deserve a second chance, and I’m the only one who can give it to them.”

They don’t have parole boards or reviews in Mississippi?

I mean, I agree with the principle that people deserve second chances and I agree that a lot of “justice” is anything but.  However, given that a pardon functionally erases the conviction in a lot of ways, on crimes for which these people were found guilty, that’s clearly the wrong way to go about it.

Reform the prison system or at least attend their parole hearings, and build some infrastructure to integrate them back into society.  Pardoning them, though, is…well, it’s just as expedient and poorly-planned as a “crime of passion.”

If the victims’ families of the violent criminals Barbour let loose form a group in order to advertise that Barbour, along with his superPAC fundraising buddies, support releasing murderers, I want to contribute.

No offense but those criminals go free…they are convicted they are no longer able to get a stable job, they’re outcasts, there is nothing there to provent them from relapsing into old behavoir. Especially if that behavour grants them a paycheck.

And IF the individual wan’ts to go back to sociaty as a working class citizen they have slim to none resources for that, because in everybody’s eyes they are a criminal.

Futher more, a lot of people who are behind bars…will never change their ways. So why keep them fed, sheltered, healthy…while the middle class become homeless, and the majority have absolutely no healthcare?

In this system we’re stuck in the mud, our wheels keep on turning, and to get some traction we dump a lot of money underneath the metaphorical truck.

Stephen Hines

Jan. 21, 2012, 6:27 p.m.


I may be wrong, but I think if you’re pardoned your criminal record is wiped.

Separate to that discussion, though, is the question you’ve raised of how prison prepares the criminal for life after prison.  Generally it doesn’t, and so recidivism is rife.  Prisons do not stop crime, do not deter people from crime, and do not rehabilitate criminals.  While we have to do something about serious criminals, modern societies seem to see prison as a convenient way of removing people who don’t fit in.  Drug problem?  Go to prison.  Psychiatric problem?  Go to prison.  Stole something in order to eat?  Go to prison.  Yes, there are some seriously bad people in prison, but there are also a lot of people who are being taught how to be seriously bad.

At over $100,000 of taxpayer money per prisoner per year, surely there’s a better way of managing most of society’s misfits.

I’d suggest we could start by ending the “war on drugs”, declaring it an abysmal and costly failure, and regulating (and taxing) sale of those drugs that are currently illicit.  Use the taxes to run treatment programs.  Get medical experts involved in the management of addicts.  Stop people dying from adulterated doses bought off the street.

I hope someone investigates whether one or more of these criminals that worked in his mansion found out something about the Governor and used that to leverage their release. he could have released the others to hide what would’ve looked suspicious if he had only pardoned those men.

I don’t know anything about these particular cases but we are long overdue for a good hard look at America’s penal system, which now incarcerates more people than Stalin did of the Soviet people in his gulags.  Although I tend not to vote for his party, I do think Barbour’s actions may have the intended or unintended effect of raising the issue of crime and imprisonment in this country, as the American people do need to have a debate on for what, how long, and who we incarcerate in this country.  If his actions spur a movement for positive change in our country’s incarceration and prison policies, then perhaps we should not judge him harshly.

I just wrote an opinion piece about how this sure looks there may be some violation of the First Amendment here, as Haley Barbour explicity has stated that his state is Christian and that he followed that in deciding who to pardon.  Moreover, Barbour only pardoned those who he determined were “redeemed”
Take a read (to long to post in this comment thread):

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Presidential Pardons

Presidential Pardons: Shades of Mercy

White criminals seeking presidential pardons are nearly four times as likely to succeed as people of color, a ProPublica examination has found.

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