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Clemency in President Obama’s Final Weeks

HOST INTRO: With Inauguration Day six weeks away, President Obama has limited time to give out executive clemencies. He’s already commuted the sentences of over 1,000 federal prisoners – more than the past 11 presidents combined. But thousands of petitions are still pending, leaving prisoners and their families increasingly anxious. Leila Miller has the story.

MILLER 1: In her apartment in Williamsburg, Jerri Vega plunks a large cardboard box onto her dining room table. She sifts through dozens of letters and birthday cards from her father, who has been incarcerated for 28 of her 29 years.

VEGA 1: Some of them are 3-D, like this one. So my dad didn’t make all these, he would just pay other inmates who were really, really good, other guys in there, to make these things and they would make them. (0:19)

MILLER 2: She picks up a drawing of B2K, a boy band she followed growing up.

VEGA 2: I used to love these guys. Had somebody draw them out for my birthday. It’s funny. This is a poem that he dedicated to me – dedicated to the light of my life my daughter Jerri Alexandra, The Road Not Taken. (0:23)

MILLER 3: Her father, also named Jerry, was convicted for conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and sentenced to 55 years. Today, he is one of thousands who’ve applied for clemency from President Obama. Jerri says her father’s chance to receive clemency is likely to be much lower under President Trump.

VEGA 3: It’s worrisome to know that maybe everything’s gonna kind of be put to a halt. For a lot of us this means whether or not our loved one will live to see the day they are released. (0:12)

MILLER 4: Mark Osler is a former federal prosecutor and one of the leading clemency advocates. He says the process for reviewing clemency petitions is very slow.

OSLER 1: There’s a lot of worthy people who have petitioned for clemency who are probably not going to get it, and who most likely aren’t going to get it in the next administration. (0:11)

MILLER 5: Two years ago, the Obama administration announced it would prioritize applications for clemency from non-violent, low-level offenders that had served at least ten years, who would have received a lower sentence today for their crime, who had good conduct in prison and no history of violence before the conviction. Osler says that clemency petitions have to go through many steps.

OSLER 2: It goes from the staff of the Pardon Attorney to the Pardon attorney to the staff of the Deputy Attorney General to the Deputy Attorney General to the staff of the White House counsel to the White House counsel and finally to the President. That’s a pretty tough route. (0:14)

Miller 6: He says it also puts the Attorney General, who reviews petitions, in a tough position.

OSLER 3: One thing about prosecutors, is it’s very hard to say you were wrong or say that your compatriots were wrong. And yet those are the people we’re sending the clemency process through when really it could use a more objective look. (0:14)

MILLER 7: The government doesn’t say why certain cases are granted or denied clemency. Steve Cook is the president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. He says the deliberation process should be transparent and is skeptical that freed prisoners are meeting the right criteria.

COOK 1: These are high level, violent cartel gang-related drug traffickers and if that’s wrong then it’s easy enough to make that information available to the public.

MILLER 8: Jerri has been trying to raise attention to her father’s case. She has created a petition on that has over 5,000 signatures. She traveled to D.C. last month to meet other children of incarcerated parents for the first time.

VEGA 4: It hurts me to think that there are other kids that went through the same things, and they obviously did because they’re there fighting for their fathers as well, so their fathers meant a lot to them and have really impacted their lives as well.

MILLER 9: For now, all Jerri Vega can do is hope she gets a response from the President soon.

Leila Miller, Columbia Radio News.


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