Journalism in the Public Interest

Despite New Pardons, Obama’s Clemency Rate is Still Lowest in Recent History

The White House announced 17 pardons on Friday. But Obama has still granted clemency at a lower rate than his predecessors.


The White House announced 17 pardons on Friday. But Obama has still granted clemency at a lower rate than his predecessors. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

On Friday, President Obama pardoned 17 people. But despite the new pardons, the Obama administration has still granted clemency more rarely than any president in recent history.

Indeed, the day before the pardons were announced, a Department of Justice spokesman said, Obama had denied 314 other applicants.

A ProPublica analysis of Justice Department statistics last November found that Obama had granted pardons at a lower rate than Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush had at the same point in their administrations.

Obama has now granted a total of 39 pardons and denied 1,333.

The people pardoned on Friday – including a mother of two in Honolulu who had faced the possibility of deportation due to a 1996 conviction and a fishing company executive who went to prison in 1991 for a bid-rigging scam – will not have their records wiped clean. But pardons do allow convicted criminals to restore their rights to vote, buy firearms, and open up other opportunities closed to them by their records.

Pardons are largely processed based on recommendations from the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. As we reported in November, recommendations in favor of pardons have been rare during Obama's presidency.

The president also has the power to commute sentences – a privilege Obama has used only once.

After ProPublica and the Washington Post detailed the commutation case of Clarence Aaron, the Justice Department's inspector general criticized the pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, for failing to convey key information about the case to the White House.

The report concluded that Rodgers had engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."

Our 2011 investigation of pardons data from 2001 to 2008 also found that whites were four times as likely to be pardoned as minorities, prompting a Justice Department study.

It is easy to have a low pardon rate when you aren’t putting the criminals that belong behind bars, like Mr. Corzine, in jail in the FIRST PLACE!!!!

This is a tragedy in light of the fact we have so many non violent prisoners. Who are rotting in jail for things like growing medical marijuana
under state law. It a shame the corporate press doesn’t talk about these
people. And the fact we are number one in the world for prisoner incarceration per capita. Shame on you President Obomber.

I knew if I was patient enough, Obama would eventually do something right.

I have written letter asking for a pardon for my love one. The only thing we keep getting is a letter, waiting for an answer for years, The one person that we felt that we could count on is not hearing or looking into help anyone, We will have to continue praying to God and ask him to move the mountain that is in the way.

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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