Sunday, January 31, 2016

DOJ's head of pardons and clemency petitions resigns due to frustration over lack of resources

By Josie Duffy
Thursday Jan 21, 2016 · 10:44 AM EST

For two years Deborah Leff has been the Justice Department's pardon attorney, heading the effort to review clemency petitions from federal inmates. But at the end of this month she'll step down, due to frustration over "a lack of resources for one of the president's centerpiece criminal-justice initiatives." Right now, the office has 22 lawyers trying to process more than 9,000 clemency petitions. The DOJ is requesting that Congress approve an increase of 24 lawyers in the pardon office, bringing the total to 46.

So far, Obama's commuted the sentences of 184 inmates, which is "more commutations than the past five presidents combined." He wants to grant more commutations and pardons before he leaves office, according to White House officials. The need is especially great in the wake of the drug war that left many people in federal prison for an extremely long time. The Washington Post reports:

[Leff] released a statement saying that she has known President Obama for more than 20 years and that she thinks “his commitment to reinvigorating the clemency process — and the promise that holds for justice — can change the lives of a great many deserving people.”

But Leff added: “It is essential that this groundbreaking effort move ahead expeditiously and expand.”

Leff’s leaving should be a wake-up call. The hope is that the administration, the DOJ, and Congress can work together to ensure that the office is sufficiently resourced and staffed so that these clemency petitions can be assessed and many of them granted.

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