What a shame. /sarcasm.
Only 187 inmates have had their sentences commuted, far below the thousands expected by justice reform advocates and a tiny fraction of the 2.2 million people behind bars in the United States, which has the world’s highest incarceration rate.
The administration said it wanted to decide on all the applications before Obama’s term ends next January, when the program will automatically expire.
A senior DOJ official told Reuters it is calling on the lawyers’ group — Clemency Project 2014 — to simply hand over the outstanding cases without further vetting, saying it is not working fast enough. So far, the group estimates it has handed over around 200 cases.
But criminal justice experts say the administration itself should bear much of the blame. The idea to tap pro-bono attorneys to help vet the cases originated with the DOJ, and critics say it should have prepared its own staff to handle the large volume of applications.
“It’s unfair to criticize the volunteer group that you asked to help,” said Rachel Barkow, a criminal law professor at New York University who has studied clemency in U.S. prisons.
She estimates that about 1,500 prisoners should be eligible for commutation, saying the 187 granted so far does not “fulfill the promise of the program.”
The DOJ declined to comment when asked for its response to such criticism.