The federal clemency system is in a state of collapse, the New York Times says in an editorial. The Justice Department admitted as much last month, when the deputy attorney general, James Cole, asked the criminal defense bar to help the department find suitable candidates for clemency among the many thousands of people who were casualties of the mandatory-sentencing era.
The Justice Department's sudden interest in the clemency problem is good news, the paper says, but asking defense lawyers for help is a haphazard approach. What's needed is wholesale reform of the department's pardon office, which has proved itself ineffective and incompetent, partly because the current process relies on the department to evaluate its own work. One sound idea is to create a clemency review panel outside the Justice Department, perhaps as a part of the executive office. The goal would be to give the president unbiased information that would enable him to exercise fully this important aspect of executive power.