Presidential pardon research shows racial imbalance

A study of presidential pardons granted over the last ten years shows that whites are almost four times more likely to be pardoned of a criminal conviction than minorities. According to the study, blacks are least likely to receive a pardon.

The analysis of data on prisoners considered for pardons was conducted by nonprofit ProPublica, an investigative journalistic organization that focuses on public interest issues. Historically, little information has been made available about pardons that presidents considered but did not grant. Virtually no information was known about the race of individuals who were not pardoned. ProPublica determined their respective races through investigations and interviews.

ProPublica began its scrutiny with pardons granted by President George W. Bush because the Bush years marked the beginning of a period when presidents began to grant pardons based almost exclusively on the judgment of lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Many believe that President Bush relied so heavily on the recommendations because of criticism that his predecessor, President Clinton, endured after pardoning a financier whose former wife was a donor to Democratic Party causes and to Clinton’s Presidential Library.

Bush’s presidential pardon scorecard shows that he pardoned 176 whites, seven blacks, four Hispanics, one Asian and one Native American. Whites and blacks who had committed similar crimes such as tax fraud or drug possession achieved dissimilar results when they sought pardons. For example, a first-time, drug crime offender who was black was convicted of possession of 1.1 grams of crack cocaine and was not pardoned, but a four-time white drug crime offender who had a criminal conviction for possessing a thousand times as much methamphetamine received a pardon.

Justice Department officials confronted with the results of ProPublica’s research said that the factors it considers when granting pardons, such as remorse and candor, cannot be statistically measured.


ProPublica: “Presidential Pardons Heavily Favor Whites,” Dafna Linzer and Jennifer LaFleur, Dec. 3, 2011

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