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."