I was reading a neighborhood newsletter the other day and came across a Q & A column with someone who works at a nearby homeless shelter. In addition to its tradition function as place of respite for the homeless, the shelter also provides education, job and housing-related support for the down and out. Services that are more important now than ever with the country in its second worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Real solutions for folks with real issues.
This makes one wonder why efforts of similar utility and foresight cannot be implemented on a more systemic level. Especially by those who do little else but profess their affinity for the American people. President Obama and his use, or, more aptly, disuse, of his presidential pardon power comes to mind here. According to a recent New York Times report:
In the months since the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the Obama administration reduced the backlog [of clemency applications] substantially by denying nearly 4,000 petitions while granting 17 pardons. The first nine of those were granted last December, barely avoiding a record set by President George W. Bush for the longest wait for a president’s first pardons.
Here is a chart published by the Pardon Power blog comparing Obama’s clemency record with that of other Presidents:
President Days before First Commutation of Sentence
Obama 1,004 … and counting
H.W. Bush 206
Ford (s) 61
Truman (s) 54
Johnson (s) 30
If there’s anyone who really needs a second chance of sorts it is an ex-offender with a conviction on his or her record. As I have mentioned previously, society has increasingly little tolerance for anyone who has had any kind of run-in with the law, whether it’s an arrest for shoplifting or a conviction for robbery. Aside from depriving individuals of jobs on the basis of something that has very little if anything to do with their ability to actually do good work, this two-tier system [i.e., those with clean records and those with criminal histories] increases the racial and socioeconomic stratification that has led to anger and unrest around the country (as seen in the Occupy Wall Street movement and its cross-continental progeny). That such an issue fails to attract the attention of those in Government is not a surprise. Prisoners and arrestees do not have a lobby in Washington as far as I am aware. But ignoring the country’s prison and ex-offender population, as Obama has been doing through his disuse of the pardon power, carries with it far greater risks in terms of social inequality and public dissatisfaction.